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Utah driver’s license model weighed for New Mexico

A Republican lawmaker who has previously sought to repeal New Mexico’s immigrant driver’s license law said he will propose a bill next session modeled after one in Utah that allows foreign nationals to have “driving privilege cards.”

New Mexico Rep. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque said he will sponsor legislation that would grant state driving privilege cards for immigrants — even those suspected of living in the country illegally.

Pacheco said he decided to look at the Utah model to end a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats over revising a law that allows immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status.

“I’m hopeful. I don’t know if it will have the support or if the governor will support it, but I’m going to try,” Pacheco said.

The move came after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently denied New Mexico an extension of the deadline for imposing tougher federal requirements on state driver’s licenses. The decision means New Mexico IDs won’t be valid for federal purposes.

At this point, it appears federal facilities that require IDs from visitors to certain areas — Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, for example — will stop accepting New Mexico driver’s licenses as of Jan. 10 and require alternatives such as passports.

Airline travel could be affected later next year, federal officials say.

Pacheco’s previous bill, which would have halted the issuing of new licenses for some immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally, was passed by the GOP-controlled House this year. But the Democratic-led Senate failed to take it up.

The Senate, however, passed a measure that would have created another version of a two-tier system.

It would have granted two types of licenses: one for drivers who can prove they’re in the country legally — which would be Real ID-compliant — and another for those who can’t prove lawful residence or who don’t want to go along with Real ID.

The House refused to consider that bill.

Gov. Susana Martinez, who called for repeal of the state’s driver’s license law as she ran for re-election, said that she is willing to work with Democrats on a compromise, but that Democrats keep changing what they would accept to revise the law.

In a statement, her office stopped short of endorsing Pacheco’s new proposal but signaled she was open to ideas.

“As with every year, Gov. Martinez is willing to work across the aisle, but that would have to include a true two-tier system, and it would have to stop the giving (of) driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said he was hopeful both parties could compromise on a bill after years of gridlock.

“It’s unfortunate that we are in this position, especially since a majority of New Mexicans want the law repealed,” Gentry said. “But we will try to do what we can and come up with a compromise.”

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the Senate is prepared to work with Republicans again on a bipartisan bill next session. “We passed a bill last session, and the House didn’t take it up,” Sanchez said.

Journal reporter Deborah Baker contributed to this report.