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Senate OKs proposed changes to driver’s license system

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Senate overwhelmingly adopted legislation Thursday that would streamline the approval process for applicants who want the less stringent option offered under New Mexico’s two-tiered driver’s license system.

Supporters said the proposal, Senate Bill 278, would reduce confusion and make other improvements to the system – in which New Mexico offers one license compliant with the U.S. Real ID Act and a second option not intended for federal purposes.

The second option, now called a driving authorization card, would be renamed the “standard driver’s license.”

Senate Bill 278 also would repeal a requirement for some applicants to provide fingerprints when they seek the standard driver’s license or identification card.

“It just makes the whole process much simpler,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, “and it should greatly reduce the number of constituent complaints directed at us.”

The Senate voted 31-9 in favor of the legislation, which now heads to the House.

The bill picked up support from every Democratic senator present and from some Republicans. All nine dissenting votes came from GOP lawmakers.

Opponents said creation of the driving authorization card was part of a 2016 compromise aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining licenses but still allowing them to drive legally.

“Now we’re going back on that,” said Sen. Mark Moores, an Albuquerque Republican who opposed the bill.

The two-tiered system was also intended to bring the state into compliance with the Real ID Act.

But supporters of Senate Bill 278 said the driving authorization card was never intended only for immigrants. It’s for anyone who doesn’t want or need the federal ID.

Several Democratic senators said they have the authorization cards themselves, for example.

The more burdensome requirements for a federal ID, supporters said, can cause problems for longtime citizens, especially women who have documents with different last names because of a marriage or divorce. The less-stringent option makes sense for many people, supporters said, and it clears up confusion by renaming it a standard license.

“Women are really at a disadvantage,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, a Hobbs Republican who supported the bill. “I just think that’s really unfair.”

The proposed standard driver’s license would be labeled to say that it isn’t intended for federal purposes, distinguishing it from the Real ID driver’s license.

The standard license wouldn’t be guaranteed to be accepted for federal purposes, such as boarding commercial airliners, after Oct. 1, 2020, when federal enforcement is set to begin.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of Senate Bill 278, noted that the federal government has repeatedly delayed enforcement and might do so again.

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