SANTA FE (KRQE) – A Senate committee moved forward a proposal to make New Mexico’s driver’s licenses REAL ID-compliant on an 8-1 following a lengthy hearing that got contentious at times.
Senate Public Affairs was considering five separate driver’s license proposals Tuesday and essentially opted for a bill backed by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.
That proposal, SB 256, called for the state to offer a driving privilege card and a federally compliant driver’s license. New Mexicans with legal status would be allowed to get either the driving privilege card or the REAL ID-compliant license. Those in the country illegally would only be allowed to get the driving privilege card.
It is essentially a blend of the GOP-backed HB 99, which would require those here legally to get a REAL ID-compliant license and those here illegally to get a driving permit, and a Democrat-backed Senate proposal that offered two kinds of licenses, one federally compliant and the other non-federally compliant, and let legal residents choose.
In order to speed up the process, the Senate committee elected to amend HB 99, essentially replacing its entire language with what was in SB 256.
That move drew a loud objection from HB 99 sponsor Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, who was upset with having his bill hijacked and considered the amendment unfriendly. At times, committee member Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, got into heated exchanges with state tax and revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla over language in the legislation.
However, when it came time to vote, the committee was fairly unified, voting 8-1 to move the amended version of HB 99 forward, with only Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, opposed. Three Republicans joined with the committee’s five Democrats on approving the do pass motion.
“We are approaching this in a way where we can get something done for the state,” said Ingle. “We have to move forward.”
“There’s a strong desire to compromise,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. “It would be a shame to disregard the bipartisan push to fix this problem.”
In response to the proposal, Michael Lonergan, a spokesperson for Gov. Susana Martinez, said in a statement that the Governor was still supporting the original HB 99 and that while she liked some pieces of the amended proposal, she remained concerned specifically on security provisions.
“While the amended bill will stop giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, it unacceptably retreats on provisions already agreed to by Senate leaders — like requiring fingerprints before driver permits are provided to illegal immigrants,” wrote Lonergan. “Any bill that passes the legislature must not only end the practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, but also contain common-sense security provisions and standards New Mexicans expect and deserve, or it will be vetoed and legislators can explain to New Mexicans why they can’t pass this common-sense bill.”
That statement references a Jan. 7 letter where Democratic leaders in the House and Senate agreed to support, among other things, “other security measures such as fingerprinting and photographing applicants.” That letter does not specifically reference fingerprinting only applicants who are in the country illegally.
The amended version of HB 99 now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Even if approved by the Senate, the changes would still have to be agreed to by the House.