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State Senate must move on REAL ID

The New Mexico State House recently passed House Bill 32. When passed by the New Mexico Senate and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, it will authorize the Motor Vehicle Division to make changes to comply with the federal REAL ID Act rules.

By contrast, if the Senate doesn’t move the bill quickly, New Mexico residents may be lined up at airports starting in 2016, when the final enforcement phase begins. The MVD needs to move as quickly as possible. Secretary of Tax and Revenue Demesia Padilla has made that point repeatedly in public testimony, and she’s right.

New Mexico’s short legislative session dictates that the Senate needs to consider the bill as soon as possible. REAL ID rules’ enforcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in three phases that began Jan. 19, 2015, has already caused great turmoil in other states.

For example, Idaho had a time extension to complete REAL ID compliance but lost it because no progress actually took place. Now Idaho residents cannot access secure federal facilities throughout the United States. Beyond inconvenience, it is costing Idaho business because their employees can’t use their driver’s licenses as IDs to visit most of their federal customers to deliver goods and services.

One result is that access to the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility not unlike New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories, is now off limits to people presenting Idaho driver’s licenses. So are other federal secure buildings and most military bases throughout the country. All because Idaho’s legislature failed to act for the past five years and the state’s driver’s license agency can’t make necessary changes to comply with REAL ID rules. If Idaho legislators see the light and enact a corrective bill introduced last week, it will still take months before the needed changes can transpire and a new extension take effect.

New Mexico is facing an even bigger risk because Sandia is much bigger than Idaho’s lab, and New Mexico has large military bases that are routinely accessed by thousands. Perhaps the ladies and gentlemen in the state Senate don’t need to routinely access federal facilities, but rest assured, a lot of constituents will be harmed if New Mexico loses its time extension.

By the way, Idaho briefly had an equivalent to a “foreign nationals” program, complete with acceptance of Mexican consular IDs. Unlike New Mexico, it halted the program years ago because of fraud and established strict lawful presence requirements for all applicants. That’s a separate issue from REAL ID compliance and the two should NOT be deliberately confused, as seemed to be the case in the House debate on HB 32.

House Bill 32 was voted through 39-29. However, some opposing the bill during floor debate demonstrated woeful ignorance of the enforcement schedule for the REAL ID Act or the consequences of failing to comply. This bodes ill if the Senate leadership is equally uneducated.

New Mexico’s extension runs out on Oct. 10, 2015. Unless the Senate acts so actual progress can be made to comply with REAL ID rules, it is highly likely that New Mexico will not be granted further time. A more restrictive level of enforcement will begin the same day, and in 2016 enforcement at the airports will begin.

It will take time to implement the administrative rules, new procedures, training and information system changes once the Senate enacts HB 32. The New Mexico Senate should be prudent and send a REAL ID compliance bill that Governor Martinez can sign.

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