The House Regulatory and Public Affairs passed, along party lines, a Republican driver’s license bill Thursday evening.
Sponsors of HB 99, Reps. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch and Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, presented the bill and told the panel that this was their attempt at compromising on the multiple-yearlong issue of whether or not to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Nuñez said since 2010 he’s tried to repeal the state law that allows a person to get a driver’s license without legal documentation of citizenship.
“Since then we made a lot of compromises,” Nuñez said.
Pacheco also referred to the bill as a compromise and said if it is passed, “we can put this issue to rest.”
“I feel like this compromise will solve this problem,” Pacheco said of recent news that some federal agencies within the state will no longer accept New Mexico issued identification cards.
Members of the public lined up outside the House chambers to speak out against the bill. Of those against the bill included David Coss, a former mayor of Santa Fe. Coss said he opposed this version of a driver’s license bill because of its strict rules.
“It requires background checks as if they were going to work for the CIA or something like that,” Coss said, referring to requirements for obtaining a driving privilege card.
Under the bill, those who do not qualify for a Real ID compliant driver’s license could still get a permit card. Opponents of the bill have said these permits would single out undocumented immigrants.
New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops Executive Director Allen Sánchez, a longtime supporter of licenses for undocumented immigrants, said he opposed the bill because it would create issues within state departments.
“We have problems with this bill because we can’t turn the motor vehicle office into an immigration office,” Sánchez said.
Speaking out in support, Rep. Candy Spence Ezzelll, R-Roswell, said while the opposition is concerned with the immigrant population, she is concerned with the rest of New Mexico.
“Unless we become Real ID compliant, how are we as legislators going to address the rest of the population?” Ezzell asked.
Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, raised her concerns about whether New Mexicans would be forced into getting a Real ID compliant license. Pacheco said he did not write a provision to allow a citizen to get a non-federal ID, but that he was willing to look into it.
Armstrong also questioned why driving permits would require background checks and fingerprints. New Mexico Secretary of Taxation and Revenue Department Demesia Padilla, whose department oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, was on hand to answer Armstrong’s question. Padilla said fingerprinting would be used to combat fraud and criminal activities.
“We’ve had so much fraud in the state of New Mexico,” Padilla said. “We have well over 50,000 more drivers licenses than we have immigrants living in our state.”
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero said she took offense with how the bill was written and she sees it as an attack on New Mexico’s immigrant population.
“Because we continue to com in with the driver’s license issue, it certainly does show to me that there is reason to question intent,” Roybal Caballero said.
Final vote was 4-3 in favor of the bill.
The bill next heads to the House Judiciary Committee.
Correction: This story originally referred to the Motor Vehicle Division as the Motor Vehicle Department.