Senate panel to debate competing driver’s license bills Tuesday

Rep. Paul Pacheco

Clyde Mueller / The New Mexican

Rep. Paul Pacheco speaks during a committee meeting at the New Mexico State Capitol on Friday.

A state Senate panel will hear four proposals Tuesday that aim to make New Mexico driver’s licenses compliant with the federal Real ID Act — including a version by Albuquerque Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco that would only allow driving privilege cards for undocumented immigrants.

After making a swift pass through two House panels and the full chamber, Pacheco’s bill is likely to have a tougher time getting through the Democrat-majority Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Most Democrats oppose Pacheco’s plan to create driving privilege cards for immigrants without lawful residency, who now can apply for state driver’s licenses under a law passed in 2003. Opponents object that a driver who is issued such a card would be immediately identifiable to police as an undocumented immigrant, which many Democrats, calling the card a “Scarlet Letter,” say could lead to profiling.

Democrats also oppose Pacheco’s bill because it requires the state Department of Public Safety to record fingerprints from immigrants who decide to obtain driving privilege cards. Under Pacheco’s proposal, U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status would be able to apply for a federally approved driver’s license without the need for fingerprinting.

Since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in October that New Mexico driver’s licenses eventually wouldn’t be recognized for federal purposes under the Real ID Act — such as entering federal facilities and boarding domestic flights — state lawmakers have proposed various measures that they say will resolve the issue while still allowing immigrants without lawful residency to drive legally in the state.

The federal government has said New Mexico residents can use their driver’s licenses to board domestic commercial flights until 2018. But many military bases and other federal facilities have announced they are no longer accepting New Mexico licenses.

The state Senate’s Public Affairs Committee voted last year in favor of a bill that would have created a two-tiered driver’s license system that would have given U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status the option of getting a Real ID-compliant license. Those who chose not to get a Real ID license, or undocumented immigrants who didn’t qualify for one, would have been able to apply for a regular driver’s license stating it couldn’t be recognized for federal purposes.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, has sponsored a similar bill this year, and the panel will discuss it Tuesday. The bill has backing from Senate Democrats and a few Senate Republicans but lacks support from GOP House members.

The other two bills the Senate committee will debate are by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho.

Campos’ proposal would create a Real ID-compliant identification card for residents who want one but would leave the driver’s license system largely unchanged. Brandt’s bill would make Real ID-compliant licenses and identification cards for U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status. Undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for a license that states it is temporary and can’t be recognized for federal purposes.

Republican Gov. Susan Martinez, who took office in 2011, has long vowed to seek repeal of the law that allows the state to issue licenses to applicants without proof of immigration status. Her efforts to get a repeal through the Legislature have failed repeatedly, however, and she is now backing Pacheco’s bill calling for a driving privilege card.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 986-3062 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen. Read the original article here.