NM simplifies paperwork for some drivers - Albuquerque Journal

NM simplifies paperwork for some drivers

Veronica Velasquez of Santa Fe, center, celebrates after getting a standard driver's license to replace her driving authorization card. She and others attended a news conference Tuesday to announce the new licenses. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Veronica Velasquez of Santa Fe, center, celebrates after getting a standard driver’s license to replace her driving authorization card. She and others attended a news conference Tuesday to announce the new licenses. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Years of political debate and litigation ended this week with the launch of a new standard driver’s license in New Mexico – a move that streamlines the approval process for applicants who want the less stringent option offered under the state’s two-tiered licensing system.

Hundreds of New Mexicans have obtained the standard license since it became available Monday.

Legislation approved by state lawmakers this year established the standard license as a “co-equal” option on par with the more stringent license, which meets the requirements under the U.S. Real ID Act of 2005.

Supporters say the move will make it easier for the elderly, undocumented immigrants and others to obtain IDs.

Many drivers, they say, don’t need or want a driver’s license that complies with the Real ID Act. They may object on privacy grounds to the documents required or might have paperwork problems created by a marriage or their immigration status, supporters said.

“This has been a long struggle for immigrant families and our allies,” said Marcela Díaz of Somos un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant-led advocacy group. “This has been 10 years in coming.”

The standard license replaces something called the driving authorization card.

The authorization card was created under then-Gov. Susana Martinez as part of a bipartisan legislative compromise in 2016.

The state Motor Vehicle Division is now offering a fact sheet in Spanish as part of a public information campaign launched for the new standard driver’s license. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)
The state Motor Vehicle Division is now offering a fact sheet in Spanish as part of a public information campaign launched for the new standard driver’s license. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

Martinez had repeatedly pushed to change a 2003 law that allowed people living in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. She had initially sought to repeal the law but later accepted the two-tiered system.

Even after the 2016 legislation, however, the Martinez administration faced a class-action lawsuit accusing the state of improperly rejecting applicants for the driving authorization card.

Lawmakers stepped in this year to change the law again. They streamlined the approval requirements for the less stringent option and renamed it the standard driver’s license.

The state expanded the list of documents acceptable as proof of residence and made other changes easing the process for a standard license.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of this year’s legislation, Senate Bill 278, said he hoped the new law would put an end to the long-running debate over how to comply with the Real ID Act while also permitting other people to drive, even if they don’t have the documents required under the federal law.

“This is really an important day for New Mexico,” he said.

The two options – the standard license and Real ID license – will now be treated equally in New Mexico, although the standard license isn’t intended for federal purposes.

That means the standard license may not allow a person to board an airplane or enter a military base, starting in October next year, if the Real ID Act is fully enforced.

In any case, the standard license and Real ID license will now look the same, except for a note on the standard license making clear that it isn’t intended for federal purposes. The Real ID license will have a gold star in the upper right corner.

Stephanie Schardin Clarke, secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, said the new law means the state is “offering a standard driver’s license without stigma and without unnecessary hoops to jump through to be able to have a legal driving credential in New Mexico.”

Senate Bill 278 eliminated a requirement for some applicants to provide fingerprints when they seek the standard driver’s license. Ivey-Soto said the fingerprint requirement created a variety of unintended problems and was difficult to administer.

The legislation didn’t change requirements for the Real ID license.

It was signed into law in April by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who succeeded Martinez, a Republican, at the beginning of the year.

Alicia Ortiz, director of the Motor Vehicle Division, said people who have a driving authorization card or otherwise want the new standard license can apply for one anytime. They don’t have to wait for their old one to expire.

About 98% of applicants have been opting for the Real ID license, officials said, but they expect more people to opt for the standard license now that it’s easier to obtain and looks similar to the Real ID license.

Nearly 650 standard driver’s licenses had been issued by Tuesday afternoon, Ortiz said.

Mark Oldknow, associate director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said the new ID requirements will help homeless people find jobs, rent apartments and identify themselves to police.

“It’s easy to forget that the first step of bootstrapping yourself out of homelessness always requires some kind of identification,” he said.


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