By: Steve Terrell
Santa Fe New Mexican
Who says Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature can’t put aside partisan differences, roll up their sleeves and come together and agree on legislation?
This happened just last week. And no, I’m not talking about some apple-pie memorial honoring some 4-H Club. I’m talking about a real, live controversial issue that ended up with a unanimous, bipartisan vote in a House committee.
The bill was House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. The legislation would require the state Motor Vehicle Act to create a new kind of identification card that would comply with the stringent requirements of the federal Real ID Act.
On Thursday, the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee spoke with one voice on the bill.
The panel unanimously tabled it — effectively killing the bill.
It’s not surprising that there’s across-the-board opposition to Real ID, which requires documentation of legal residency status to obtain a license. After all, only 13 states have adopted driver’s licenses that comply with the Real ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 to standardize the driver’s license system nationwide. And 17 state legislatures around the country have passed laws forbidding their states to comply with the law, and several other legislatures have passed resolutions stating opposition to the law.
What’s surprising about this action is that just last October, Gov. Susana Martinez wrote to the federal Department of Homeland Security, wanting to know whether the feds would be extending the deadline for states to comply. At that point, the deadline for state compliance was in January.
“Unfortunately, New Mexico’s practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants not only poses a significant and well-documented public safety threat, it also undermines the validity and security of every New Mexico driver’s license,” Martinez said in a letter to the department. “It’s deeply concerning that New Mexicans who work at our labs, get on an airplane or need to show identification at any other federal facility will no longer be able to use their driver’s license to do so.”
By late December, Homeland Security announced that the deadline would be extended again. Still, supporters of the governor’s long-thwarted move to repeal the law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants continue to use the Real ID argument to advocate for the repeal.
Bandy’s bill offered a possible way around the driver’s license issue. New Mexico driver’s license would be unchanged, but the new ID card would be ready in case the feds actually do start enforcing the act and requiring “Real IDs” to board planes or to enter federal buildings.
But Republicans weren’t going for it. The comment made by the one Republican to speak on the bill was that it would “take the heat off the Legislature to fix the driver’s licenses.”
The committee’s vote was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico's director of public policy. Steve Allen said the ACLU “is pleased that both parties in the Legislature don’t have any interest in implementing the Real ID Act. We applaud them.”
But Bandy said, “We’re going to need to do something soon.”
The Homeland Security news release in December announcing the latest Real ID deadline extension said the department by this coming autumn expects to publish a schedule for compliance. No actual date for implementation has been set.
More strange bedfellows: So we have Republicans on the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee voting with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Real ID bill. But that’s not the only strange alliance in this session.
Just the day before, the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled Sen. Peter Wirth’s bill that would have specifically outlawed texting while driving. Most Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, which was opposed by the state Criminal Defense Lawyer Association. Meanwhile, most Democrats voted for the bill — which was supported by a couple of big corporations, Verizon and AT&T.
Just another Roundhouse do-si-do.