A Senate committee approved an altered version on Tuesday of a Republican-sponsored House bill calling for driving privilege cards. As amended, House Bill 99 would allow people who don’t prove citizenship or legal status to obtain two-year renewable driving privilege cards — instead of having to renew annually — and wouldn’t require fingerprinting.
The committee vote was the newest chapter in efforts to make the state compliant with the federal Real ID Act while still giving immigrants living in New Mexico without legal status a way to drive legally.
After more than three hours spent debating several proposals, the Democrat-controlled Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 8-1, with three Republicans joining the panel’s five Democrats, to approve a proposal that amended Albuquerque Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco’s House Bill 99. Pacheco’s bill swiftly passed the House last week.
Since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in October that New Mexico driver’s licenses wouldn’t be recognized for federal purposes under the Real ID Act — such as entering a military base — 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.
Pacheco’s was one of the most controversial because it would create a one-year renewable driving privilege card only for people who don’t prove citizenship or legal status.
The amended bill, however, would give U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status the option to obtain a Real ID-compliant driver’s license. Those who don’t want a Real ID-license, along with immigrants who don’t qualify for one, could apply for a two-year driving privilege card.
Democrats also stripped some provisions that Pacheco wanted and Gov. Susana Martinez supported. For example, Pacheco’s bill would require those who don’t prove legal status to provide fingerprints to the state Department of Public Safety in order to obtain the one-year driving card.
Democrats and immigrant advocates opposed this provision because they said it would allow the state to easily track immigrants without legal status — and could result in the deportation of thousands of immigrants.
Pacheco said he was disappointed that Democrats took his bill and amended it to their liking. “This is totally unacceptable,” he told the Senate panel before the vote.
State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla, who had been testifying in legislative committees in support of Pacheco’s bill, also expressed dismay Tuesday after the committee’s vote. “It’s very disappointing what happened,” she said.
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. Just before the legislative session began, she threw her support, instead, behind a plan for driving privilege cards.
But she only backs driving privilege cards for those who don’t prove citizenship or legal status as long as the state gets their fingerprints, Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email Tuesday.
“We don’t intend to negotiate through the media, but the governor has been clear that any bill that passes the legislature must end the practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and contain the common-sense security provisions and standards New Mexicans expect and deserve, or it will be vetoed,” Sanchez said.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group, backed the amended version of Pacheco’s bill, saying the proposal doesn’t discriminate against immigrants without legal status — and it recognizes that such immigrants also need to drive legally.
The bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers will have to act fast to approve a compromise that would make New Mexico licenses Real ID-compliant, as the current 30-day legislative session ends Feb. 18.
At this point, the sticking point for most Democrats is that they don’t want a bill that would require those who don’t prove citizenship or legal status to get fingerprinted.
Democrats also say that the compromise bill shouldn’t force U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status to get a Real ID-compliant license if they don’t want one.
“I believe people should have a voice,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. His bill, which called for a two-tiered driver’s license system that included a Real ID-approved license and a regular driver’s license that couldn’t be used for federal purposes, was one of three that were left in the committee.
One, proposed by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, would create a Real ID-compliant identification card for residents who want one but would leave the driver’s license system largely unchanged. Another, by Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, would create Real ID-compliant licenses and identification cards for U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status. Under that bill, those who don’t prove citizenship or legal status would be able to apply for a temporary driver’s license that states it couldn’t be recognized for federal purposes.