Senate panel OK’s two-tiered driver’s license bill

Posted

By Deborah Baker Albuquerque Journal March 12, 2015 Santa Fe--The Senate Public Affairs Committee late Thursday approved the creation of a two-tiered driver’s license system that would allow those who are in the country illegally to continue to get licenses.

The legislation counters a bill backed by Gov. Susana Martinez – and passed by the House – that would ban the issuance of such licenses.

Senate Bill 653 passed the committee on a 5-3 vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against.

It would have to clear two more committees before reaching the full Senate for a vote.

Supporters labeled it a “promising compromise” that would make New Mexico compliant with the federal REAL ID Act without stigmatizing immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he and Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle of Portales joined forces to sponsor the bill because they concluded “we’ve got to come together on this” and get the issue settled.

Smith has previously supported the governor’s push to repeal the 2003 law that allows the issuance of licenses to people who are in the country illegally.

Compliance with the post-9/11 REAL ID Act – with its more stringent requirements for state identification cards – is one of the stated goals of the Martinez-backed bill that passed the House.

But House Bill 32 goes beyond that, overturning the 2003 law. An estimated 100,000 licenses have been issued to immigrants who are in the country illegally since the law was passed.

Martinez has made it a priority since her 2010 election to undo the 2003 law. She contends it poses a threat to public safety and has made New Mexico a magnet for criminal activity.

Opponents of repeal contend that it’s anti-immigrant, and that having immigrants who are illegally in the country licensed and insured makes the state safer.

“From Day One, it has felt like politics, and this really should be policy,” complained Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque.

Repeal legislation has passed the House but never made it to the full Senate for a vote; the Public Affairs Committee has repeatedly rejected it.

The Ingle-Smith bill would have New Mexico issuing two types of licenses: those that would be REAL ID-compliant – requiring a Social Security number or proof of lawful presence in the U.S. – and those that wouldn’t be.

The 2005 REAL ID Act aims to standardize state identification cards. If it were enforced, people would have to have REAL ID-compliant identifications to fly on commercial airlines or enter federal buildings.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said there are plenty of people across the political spectrum who don’t want REAL ID-compliant licenses even if they qualify for them, and the legislation would give them the option of getting them or not.