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.
Pete Campos is a Democrat who represents Senate District 8. Lost amid the confusion, frustration and posturing regarding the federal government’s mandates for state driver’s licenses is an obvious solution: create a REAL ID card for those New Mexicans who want it and who qualify for it and keep the debate over driver’s licenses for immigrants separate. No one is happy with the federal government’s decision to change the requirements to board an airplane just to fly from Albuquerque to Denver. But, we all want a safe and secure country, and we recognize that the changes are the result of the investigation into how terrorists managed to board airplanes on September 11, 2001. It’s our job now to do what we can to help New Mexicans get the documents they need to travel by air.
If you want to visit a U.S. Department of Defense facility, you will need some identification that isn’t a New Mexico driver’s license. Or one from Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri or Washington state. “All federal agencies including DoD must comply with the law regarding the use of REAL IDs for official purposes,” an unnamed DoD official said in a release sent to media. “For most DoD installations, an identification card or an installation pass is required to facilitate access. Hence, where an ID or an installation pass is used for physical access, DoD installations are prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses or state identification cards from states deemed non-REAL ID compliant.”
Gov. Susana Martinez’s regular list of legislative priorities was joined by a number of public safety initiatives that confirmed that this year would be a session with a lot of tough on crime rhetoric. Martinez, a former prosecutor, spoke about the need to curb crime and spoke about how increased sentencing is the way to do that. She laid out this and two other issues—education and jobs—as priorities at the top of her speech, which she read off Teleprompters on Tuesday afternoon. She spoke passionately about the deaths of two police officers while in the line of duty, officers Nigel Benner of Rio Rancho and Dan Webster of Albuquerque. She said “they were heroes to strangers.”
Their widows were in attendance, guests of Martinez.
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.
Gov. Susana Martinez pledged Thursday to put at least two non-budget items on the call this coming legislative session. Speaking on a panel with members of the local business community, Martinez said she will allow legislators to introduce bills on changing driver’s licenses and barring mandatory union agency fees as a condition of work, sometimes called right to work. Martinez has made ending New Mexico’s practice of allowing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants one of her top priorities for five years. But she took a notable shift in her rhetoric about the issue in her comments at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, saying for the first time that she’d support a two-tiered system that still allows driver’s permits for undocumented immigrants. “An illegal immigrant should not receive a driver’s license that looks like mine or yours,” Martinez said.
Late in December, legislators and the governor received an early Christmas present: Democratic members of the congressional delegation said that there was still time for New Mexico to receive a REAL ID waiver. All they would have to do is make an agreement with the governor by January 10. After radio silence during the holidays, Democratic leadership in both chambers released a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez and Speaker of the House Don Tripp asking them to come to an agreement on the driver’s license issue. “Despite our past differences, we are confident that we can reach an agreement on REAL ID,” the letter said. “If we are successful, New Mexico will receive an extension of the waiver of the REAL ID requirements for one more year, more than enough time for us to resolve this policy once and for all.”
The letter was was signed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez and House Minority Leader Brian Egolf.
The Department of Homeland Security says that if the governor and State Legislature can agree on a fix state drivers licenses to comply with REAL ID, the federal government will grant a waiver for implementation. That is from a news release from the four Democratic members of the congressional delegation and comes after months of confusion and political grandstanding on REAL ID compliance. The four said in the release that they met with DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently. In it, Mayorkas pledged if an agreement can be found, a waiver can still happen. Right now, New Mexico drivers licenses will not be suitable identification for federal facilities as of Jan.
Senate Democratic leaders accused the governor’s office of spreading misinformation on the REAL ID Act even as they announced their plan to comply with the federal identification law. The Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, made the announcement on Tuesday and included audio of what they said was a phone call made to the governor’s office about the need for passports to travel. They said the audio showed a member of Martinez’s office saying that New Mexicans would need a passport—not just a state-issued driver’s license—to travel by January 10 of next year. Federal officials have said that New Mexicans would need passports or other identification to enter some federal facilities by next January but that travel through airports would not be enforced until at least the spring. “It is time to clear up for New Mexico residents whether they need to run out and get a passport, or not, in order to take a domestic commercial flight, or to enter a federal building or one of the military or research facilities in our state.