March 20, 2015

Senate passes driver’s license compromise (updated)

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New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons

The state Senate voted to institute a two-tier driver’s license system in the state that they hope would stop the sometimes heated debate on allowing those in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

New Mexico State Senate.  Wikicommons

New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons

The legislation passed easily after a relatively small amount of debate for an issue that has had such a large amount of attention from both the media and the public in the past five years. The legislation passed 35-5 with five Republican Senators voting against.

The bill now heads to the state House with about 24 hours left in the session, raising questions on if the bill has enough time to pass and if the House Republican caucus will support something that still allows those in the country illegally to drive legally in the state. Update: The bill was assigned to the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee; with less than 24 hours left in the session, this is likely a death knell for the legislation. The story continues as originally written below.

The compromise is similar to an unsuccessful floor substitute by House Democrats on the outright repeal that passed the House earlier this session according to a House Democratic caucus spokeswoman.

Even if the House passes the legislation, there are serious questions on whether or not Gov. Susana Martinez would sign such legislation; she has voiced opposition to similar efforts in past years.

The bill was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and would allow for one tier of driver’s licenses that would comply the the federal REAL ID Act and another that would allow the holder to drive a motor vehicle in the state. The first tier would only be available to those in the country legally.

The first tier would allow the holder to use the identification for federal purposes, including getting on a plane or entering federal facilities. The REAL ID Act became law in 2005, but the implementation debate has been pushed back time and time again.

Smith, the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, said, “We’ve got to get this issue behind us.”

Ingle agreed.

“We need to go forward,” Ingle said. He noted that it the bill ins’t perfect, but it is a bill that can pass.

Some Republicans opted to vote against the bill, saying that giving any government document to those in the country illegally is wrong.

“I’m puzzled by the fact that the system we’re talking about would perpetuate and condone people entering the country illegally,” Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said. He said that the state of New Mexico “will condone that behavior by issuing official documents.”

“That’s your spin on it,” Smith answered.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, also was critical of the legislation, though he voted for the bill. He said it could be “simply changed” to make it more palatable but noted that there wasn’t much time left in the session.

Other Republicans also reluctantly supported the legislation. Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said that the bill needed to be judged on its own merits and not against other legislation that is out there, a reference to the House legislation that stalled in Senate committees.

“Right now, this is the bill we got,” Payne said.

Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, also said that this was not a perfect bill but that it was likely the best bill possible at the time. He said it would make sure “That the person driving towards you” has taken driving tests and eye tests, making the roads saf20er.

That was the argument in passing the legislation over a decade ago, when then-Governor Bill Richardson signed the legislation into law. Governor Martinez opposed the legislation during her first election bid and throughout her term as governor.

The protests and debate over the bill has at times dominated the New Mexico political scene.

In addition to Rue, Senators Mark Moores of Albuquerque, Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho, Lee Cotter of Las Cruces and Cliff Pirtle of Roswell voted against the bill. All are Republicans and all but Rue are in thier first term.