NM Senate panel approves two-tier driver’s license bill

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By Vik Jolly Associated Press March 13, 2015 SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico Senate committee approved a driver's license bill Thursday night that proposes a two-tier system to issue two distinct licenses, allowing people suspected of being in the country illegally to still have driving privileges.

The bill by Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle of Portales and Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming calls for one driver's license that complies with federal requirements and another that does not.

The House last month rejected an amendment akin to the long-serving senators' proposal and approved a bill 39-29 to end the state's practice of giving driver's licenses to people even if they can't prove they are in the country legally.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-3 to approve the bill, sending it on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Smith and Ingle have previously voted to repeal the state's 2003 driver's license law, which offers licenses to everyone regardless of their status.

Smith said he and Ingle came together this legislative session to try to move past five years of impasse on the issue.

He characterized their bill as a compromise, telling the committee that the "attempt is reconcile the differences between the legislative and the executive branch."

Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation's only Latina governor and a rising figure in the Republican Party, has been pushing to repeal the state's 2003 driver's license law since she was first elected in 2010.

Democrats have thus far blocked repeal.

Martinez's office did not comment Thursday to the Associated Press when asked for her position on the Senate bill and whether she still favored a repeal, but it has told other media outlets that the governor wants to find a solution to the important issue.

Ingle was unable to attend the hearing. Smith said he hopes that if the initiative gets to the House there would be enough support and the governor would sign it.

He echoed the sentiments of committee member Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who said if the bill didn't pass this year, both sides will have "shared responsibility and shared disappointment."

Still, she voted against the measure with two other Republicans on the committee who said they wanted to make sure a federal ID compliant license would be issued and may well change their votes if the bill gets to the Senate floor.

The GOP in November won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades. But the Senate - where Democrats still have a 25-17 edge - has opposed repealing the state's current law.

The measure still needs to get through two other committees before a full Senate vote with about a week left in the session.

Some in the audience wore yellow shirts that on the front read "Kids over politics" and on the back said "Keep immigrant parents licensed."

The proposed legislation calls for the state to establish two distinctly designed driver's licenses by Dec. 1. One would meet federal specifications. The other would clearly state "Not for Federal Purposes."

"This compromise marks a welcome breakthrough in this five year ordeal. It acknowledges that immigrant drivers in New Mexico need to be licensed, registered and insured, and it does not single out or discriminate against immigrant families," said Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.