Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday she intends to ask legislators during their special session this fall to repeal the New Mexico law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
The Legislature plans to meet in September to determine congressional and legislative redistricting, based on the 2010 Census. The addition of other volatile topics could add fuel to what already is sure to be a combustible political process.
Martinez supported an effort to rescind the controversial 2003 driver’s license law in the regular legislative session earlier this year.
Democratic state lawmakers immediately criticized the idea of bringing the driver’s license proposal back this fall, claiming it could lead to a longer, and more expensive, special session.
Martinez, the state’s first-term Republican governor, has been outspoken in her opposition to the 2003 state law that allows foreign nationals — regardless of their residency status — to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses.
A proposed repeal of the law was among the most contentious issues debated during this year’s 60-day session, and Martinez and her allies, mostly Republicans, were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to overturn the law.
“We’re never going to give up on the issue,” Martinez said Monday after an award ceremony at a downtown Santa Fe museum. “We’re going to fight for it — we’re going to fight for it during the special session.”
While Martinez can decide which issues should be included on the agenda for any special session, some legislators said redistricting — the once-per-decade redrawing of political boundary lines based on census figures— shouldn’t be muddled with other matters.
“Redistricting is a huge undertaking, which in my opinion deserves our undivided attention,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “Certainly it’s the governor’s prerogative to include whatever she wants on the agenda, but I also think it’s the taxpayer’s prerogative to be unhappy if the session drags on because we get away from what we’re there to do.”
The most recent special session, held in March 2010, cost the state about $50,000 per day.
Martinez has hinted that other issues, including education and anti-corruption initiatives, also could be added to the agenda for the special session.
Legislative leaders have suggested two concurrent sessions could be held, one for redistricting and one for other matters, although Martinez would have to issue the proclamation for the simultaneous sessions.
The driver’s license issue emerged as a hot-button issue during the session that ended March 19, with Democrats accusing Martinez of using the issue as a smoke screen to deflect attention from the state’s economic condition.
Although a bill that would have repealed the law passed the House after several days of emotional debate, it failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Rep. Andy Nuñez, a Hatch independent who sponsored the legislation, said Monday that he had already heard of Martinez’s plan to include the driver’s license issue on the redistricting session agenda.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” Nuñez said.
He expressed confidence of once again passing a repeal measure through the House of Representatives, but he acknowledged it could be an uphill fight in the other legislative chamber.
“We’re going to have to work on the Senate side,” he said.
Martinez has maintained that the driver’s license law endangers public safety, a contention disputed by advocates of the law.
The recent arrest of an Albuquerque notary in connection with a heroin trafficking operation prompted Martinez to once again raise concerns about “defrauding” the system.
In addition to the drug-related charges, the notary, Ana Hernandez, allegedly helped 29 foreign nationals fraudulently obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses, according to an internal Taxation and Revenue Department investigation. All 29 of the driver’s licenses have been suspended.