When state lawmakers last month passed a bill establishing a two-tier driver’s license system in New Mexico, many congratulated themselves for ending a years-long, contentious debate over driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Gov. Susana Martinez made similar remarks on Tuesday when she signed the legislation, which will go into effect July 1. But perhaps the key reason the Legislature passed the bill this year was to comply with a controversial federal law passed 11 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Largely absent from the discussion was how compliance with various provisions in the law will impact New Mexico in future years. The Real ID Act gives national standards on state identification cards in an effort to crackdown on fraud and identity theft.
It took six legislative sessions, but the Legislature finally sent a bill to the governor related to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The compromise legislation ended up being closer to the version that passed the Senate late in the 2015 session than the versions that passed the House in the previous years. The bill allows those who are in the country illegally to get a driver’s authorization card, which would not be compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Those who can prove they are in the country legally could choose to either have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or the driver’s authorization card. This is the first in a series of stories looking back at the key things that passed or failed during the 2016 legislative session.
Following the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Susana Martinez touted passage of some tougher-on-crime laws, a new state budget and a bill to bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. In a short post-session press conference, she touted her five-year legislative battle of changing the state law that gives driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants as complete. But she also acknowledged the caveat. Related Story: Sanchez happy with what Senate accomplished
“While this bill allows limited permits for those who are here illegally, they must prove residency and identity and subject themselves to fingerprinting and background checks,” she said. Until this year, Martinez said she wouldn’t accept a two-tier system if it still allowed undocumented immigrants to still drive legally.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said he was disappointed that job creation bills weren’t a focus of the session, but still outlined a number of legislatives successes this year. Overall, Sanchez said he believed the Senate did well this year. Related story: Martinez gives low-key sendoff to low-key session
“We did the right thing for the people of the state of New Mexico and what is good for the people of the state of New Mexico,” Sanchez said when asked about wins or losses in the session. “It’s not about winning or losing,” he said. “It’s about doing what is right.”
The House of Representatives Monday late afternoon voted 65-1 to concur with the Senate’s version of the driver’s license bill, bringing the heated issue to an end, at least for now. Only Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, voted against the measure, though she did not explain her vote on the floor. Debate was quick, lasting less than 10 minutes, and featured a few self-congratulatory remarks. “This is a victory for the people of New Mexico,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “Unquestionably it’s a victory for our immigrant community here in New Mexico.”
The bill allows immigrants who are not in the country legally who don’t already have driver’s licenses to qualify for driver’s privilege cards, which don’t work for identification purposes.
A long-running debate over a controversial issue looks like it is near an end. The Senate Finance Committee on Friday night unanimously passed legislation related to driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally. The legislation would put New Mexico in line with the federal REAL ID Act while allowing those who are in the country illegally to continue to drive legally. Gov. Susana Martinez indicated that she would support the legislation, if it passes in the current form. Martinez’s office did not provide a statement to NM Political Report, as they did to other media outlets and later put on Twitter.
Emotional testimony and talk about heated rhetoric preceded a unanimous vote Friday in the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill to put New Mexico in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act on. Lawmakers crowded the table where sponsors sit while presenting legislation, with Senate sponsors John Arthur Smith, D-Deming and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, crowded next to House sponsors Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch and Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque. State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla also sat at the table. The committee commended Smith and Ingle for working on a compromise bill separate from the House bill that cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee after extensive changes. “The big, fundamental difference when you really get down to it [is] the ability to opt out of REAL ID,” Smith told NM Political Report after the hearing.
After a marathon hearing, the Senate Public Affairs Committee advanced a driver’s license bill that supporters hope will finally end the problem the state has been facing for years. It didn’t come without controversy, in the form of an extensive amendment to the bill that passed the House, HB 99, to make it essentially a Senate bill, SB 256. It was not a committee substitute, which would require it to go back through committees in the House. But with an amendment, if it were to pass the Senate, then the House and Senate could have a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. The SPAC amendment passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against.
The discussion in Senate Public Affairs Committee on five pieces of legislation related to REAL ID promises to be one of the more interesting discussions this legislative session and we will be liveblogging the whole thing today. The committee will look at legislation to put New Mexico in line with the federal REAL ID Act and address that the state allows those who are in the country illegally to have driver’s licenses. The bills are:
—SB 174: Driver’s License Issuance & REAL ID by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. —SB 216: Driver’s License Issuance & REAL ID by Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho. —SB 231: Driver’s License Issuance & REAL ID by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas.
A new political television ad slated to start running on Friday features Gov. Susana Martinez and focuses on the highly-debated driver’s license legislation. The ad is paid for by Advance New Mexico Now, a political action committee, and features Martinez speaking out against a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. “This is not about immigration, it’s about public safety,” Martinez said in the ad. “And it’s time we repeal this dangerous law.”
The ad pushes for what it calls a “compromise” bill that was pre-filed before the legislative session which begins on Tuesday. NM Political Report left a voicemail for the treasurer listed on the PAC’s most recent campaign finance report but did not hear back by press time.