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GOP fails to force vote on licenses

SANTA FE – House Republicans fell short in a fight Wednesday to bring to the floor a tabled bill that would stop the issuance of New Mexico driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, but the measure stayed alive in a committee.

House Bill 606, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, would allow citizens and legal immigrants to get a newly designed driver’s license that would comply with the federal Real ID Act and create a second, unique driver’s license for illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and granted deferred federal immigration action status. Other illegal immigrants in New Mexico would not be allowed to legally drive under the bill, which was endorsed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The bill was tabled last week by the House Labor and Human Relations Committee. A Senate version of the bill was tabled in committee late Tuesday. The proposal was in trouble in both chambers, bottled up in Democratic controlled committees.

House Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, called Wednesday for the House to extricate or “blast” the bill past the three committees to which it was assigned. Gentry said the rare move was necessary to get the driver’s license repeal moving again.

“This is a result of the frustration with the committee process,” Gentry said. “This session, there have been five or six bills introduced in the House regarding this very pressing issue, and they’ve all been buried in committee. … I’d like to have this addressed now.”

Although the Pacheco bill didn’t make it to the floor, it drew new life after the House voted 36-34 to pull it off the table in the House Labor and Human Relations Committee. A second vote skipped the bill over the House Judiciary Committee.

The Pacheco bill now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where a majority of the committee’s 18 members have expressed some opposition to issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which New Mexico has been doing since 2003.

The bill ended up in the appropriations committee after a move to get it to the floor failed on a 35-35 tie, with Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, changing her vote and opposing the move to the floor. Sponsors saw some hope for the bill in the committee.

Garcia Richard, who voiced support for a license repeal before being elected in November, said she initially voted with Republicans to skip over the House Labor and Human Relations Committee to get the tabled bill a new hearing in a different committee.

“In my next vote, I really wanted to vote to have the committee process work. The bill could use some work before we see it on the floor. It’s a bill that I have been following, but it’s my understanding (it) is not meeting our national requirements for ID,” Garcia Richard said of her changed vote. “That was a huge message that I got from my folks in my district, that it needed to have that piece.”

Garcia Richard is a member of the House Appropriation and Finance Committee, where the bill will be considered next. If the bill passes that committee, it will advance to the full House for a vote before it could head to the Senate.

The Governor’s Office, however, charged that Garcia Richard’s decision to change her vote and prevent the bill from getting to the House floor was a move to cater to Democratic Party leadership and ignore past promises to support an illegal immigrant driver’s license repeal.

“Unfortunately, we just saw the ugly side of politics today when a representative, who made a crystal-clear promise to those who elected her to support this measure, broke that commitment after apparently being convinced by her party bosses that politics are more important than keeping her word,” governor’s spokesman Enrique Knell said in a statement.

However, Knell said the administration was “pleased” that the bill advanced beyond two committees and closer to a full House vote.

Other Democrats who broke with their party to support moving the bill to the House floor included Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, and Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, also cast one vote to skip a committee but said the vote was a mistake because she pushed the “wrong button.”

GOP fails to force vote on licensesHouse panel could send bill to floorSee DRIVER’S on PAGE A6<reefer_hed>Police shootingsAn Albuquerque lawmaker proposes public hearings after fatal police shootings A6

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— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal