January 25, 2016

House driver’s license bill passes committee, headed to floor debate

A House Republican driver’s license bill aimed at issuing driving privilege cards to immigrants without legal status passed along party lines in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon.

House Judiciary Committee meeting in the House Chambers

House Judiciary Committee meeting in the House Chambers

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the committee his legislation was an attempt to solve a long-time problem surrounded in debate in New Mexico.

“We’ve been dealing and wrestling with this problem for as long as I’ve been in the House,” Pacheco said.

On hand as an expert witness was Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who also said Pacheco’s bill would put to rest the debate on who gets driver’s licenses as well.

“I believe the solution you have before you takes care of everyone’s needs,” Padilla told the panel.

State Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, is also sponsoring the bill.

The bill would create a New Mexico driver’s license compliant with the federal Real ID Act as well as a driving privilege card for those who cannot show legal proof of citizenship. During a previous hearing, both Pacheco and Padilla told lawmakers that all New Mexicans with a valid social security card would be required to get a Real ID compliant driver’s license.

Opponents of the bill spoke out for more than an hour, arguing that the measure would unfairly discriminate against immigrants by singling them out with a driver’s permit.

Members of the public who were in support of the bill, most of whom were speaking for the business community, argued briefly that contractors do not have access to many federal buildings and military bases and need a compliant ID.

Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, spent some time dissecting Pacheco’s bill in an attempt to compare and contrast it with a Senate bill from last year sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. That legislation, commonly referred to as a two-tier license bill, would allow New Mexicans to choose between a non-compliant license and a Real ID compliant license. This year Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, introduced a similar version.

“The difference between the two bills is the solution,” Martinez said.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, raised concerns regarding a provision in the bill that would require fingerprints and background checks in order to obtain a driving privilege card.

“It’s only requirements Donald Trump would love,” Maestas said.

Pacheco said he took some offense to what he saw as sarcasm from Maestas.

“I just believe we have more respect for each other than that,” Pacheco said.

Maestas countered by saying he was indeed taking the issue seriously and called Trump “the leader of your party,” insinuating that if Trump were elected President, he would use data collected by New Mexico and load undocumented immigrants “on to box cars.”

Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, continued with the idea that the driving privilege card would discriminate against some individuals. Louis, a Native American, said her parents do not have the proper documents required to get a Real ID compliant card. Louis said many tribal members will be discriminated against when they are unable to get a Real ID compliant driver’s license.

“Regardless of intent this bill is going to discriminate on those levels,” Louis said.

After a failed attempt at tabling the measure, the committee voted 7-6 to pass the bill on to the floor.

Pacheco’s HB 99 is one of a handful of bills, both in the House and Senate, that address New Mexico driver’s licenses and how they relate to the federal Real ID Act.

The bill could be debated on the floor as early as Wednesday.