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Two-tier license bill weighed

A Senate committee plans to take up a driver’s license bill proposed by two of its longtime members before it considers House-passed legislation backed by the governor.

Senate Public Affairs Chairman Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said his committee is scheduled to take up Senate Bill 653 on Thursday.

Offered by Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming and Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle of Portales, the legislation would create two tiers of driver’s licenses for New Mexico. Unlike the House bill, it would not halt the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally.

Ortiz y Pino said the House bill could be considered a day or two later.


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“We thought we’d deal with the Senate bill first, and then see what the House bill is like,” Ortiz y Pino told the Journal.

The senator said he thinks the Ingle-Smith bill has a better chance of getting Senate support.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has been the stopping point for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s repeated efforts – now in the fifth year – to repeal the 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

House-passed House Bill 32 would stop the issuance of driver’s licenses to those in the country illegally. Its backers say it also would make New Mexico compliant with the federal REAL ID Act, aimed at standardizing state identification cards after the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Martinez supports the legislation.

But her office also said Tuesday that it was working with Ingle and Smith and hopes “to find a bipartisan solution to this important issue.”

Ingle is the Senate’s minority leader. Smith is the longtime Finance Committee chairman.

The Ingle-Smith bill would create a two-tiered system: New Mexico would issue licenses that would be REAL ID-compliant, and others that wouldn’t be.


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Getting a REAL ID-compliant license would require providing a Social Security number or proof of lawful presence in the country. Getting a non-REAL ID-compliant license would not.

Nothing in the bill would preclude immigrants who are in the county illegally from getting the non-REAL ID-compliant licenses.

The bill is similar to a measure offered by House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, during the debate on House Bill 32. It was rejected.

“We’re trying to get enough votes to pass it and get the issue out of the way,” Ingle told the Journal.

He said he wants to be sure immigrants who are in the country illegally – who are part of New Mexico’s workforce – can be licensed.

Immigrant rights advocates have fought to keep the 2003 law intact, but they said they don’t oppose the Ingle-Smith bill as it was introduced because it addresses REAL ID and is not aimed at “punishing immigrants.”

“It finally takes it out of the realm of immigrant-bashing and puts it back in the realm of policymaking,” said Marcela Diaz of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.