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Mass. gubernatorial candidates jump into debate over Real ID

WASHINGTON — The state’s gubernatorial candidates on Tuesday blamed policy makers in both Washington and Massachusetts for a federal law that bans state residents from entering some federal buildings.

And some seized on the moment to attack each other.

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Republican candidate Charlie Baker scolded Governor Deval Patrick’s administration for failing to meet a July deadline to follow the law, known as Real ID. The state is one of nine that have not received an extension or complied with security updates, such as verifying citizenship, when issuing driver’s licenses.

Baker also took aim at a Democratic rival, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who previously opposed the 2005 law on the grounds it would fail to increase safety, and would cost billions of dollars and boost the market for fake IDs.

“I don’t know why the attorney general doesn’t support this,” said Baker, who has pushed the state on the issue before. “I don’t know why it’s not common sense to say we should participate.”

A spokesman said Coakley accepts Real ID now that it has gone into effect. “The federal government has chosen to move forward with this law, and she believes Massachusetts should work to implement it so that people maintain access to federal facilities and comply with federal guidelines for air travel,” Brad Puffer said.

The comments followed a Globe article on Tuesday that examined the issue.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials said the agency has requested an extension to meet the requirements, which began to take effect in April. If Massachusetts does not comply, its citizens will need alternate identification to board a plane as soon as 2016.

Democrats expressed concern over the law and portrayed the state as the victim of an unfair mandate by Congress.

“This is an example of a politically motivated move in Washington,” Democratic candidate Donald Berwick said, adding that he would fight the law and explore a compromise.

State treasurer and Democratic candidate Steve Grossman criticized Real ID as a “highly flawed law, based on its costs to our taxpayers, excessive administrative burdens, and potential interference with the privacy rights of our citizens.”

Supporters of Real ID argue that states that choose not to participate are enabling fraudulent licenses to proliferate.

States must check an individual’s legal status to comply with the law, a requirement that irked some candidates. Coakley said this month that she would create a new position in the governor’s office to help make it possible for undocumented residents to gain driver’s licenses, which she once opposed.

Grossman said efforts to bring the state into compliance shouldn’t come at the expense of providing driver’s licenses “for all immigrants, regardless of their status, which, unlike Martha Coakley, I fully support because I believe it is a fundamental issue of public safety and fairness.”

Berwick insisted Massachusetts needs to grant licenses to undocumented residents in order to make the streets safer. Baker opposes such a move.

The federal government “gave states a long time to get their plans together,” Baker said about Real ID’s phased enforcement. “Just seems to me that . . . taking a passport everywhere you go is not something people are going to want to do — nor should they.”

Jessica Meyers can be reached at jessica.meyers@globe.com.
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