Senate Bill 256 was introduced Monday by Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.
Today, the Senate begins debating the contentious issue of how to bring New Mexico driver’s licenses in line with the federal Real ID Act.
Ingle called the bill “a good place to start. We need to solve this problem.”
Like House Bill 99, which is supported by House Republicans and GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, the bill has two tiers: a Real ID-compliant license and a driving privilege card.
Other Senate bills have called both tiers licenses.
Martinez is “adamant that we stop giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and provide a secure ID for New Mexico citizens,” her spokesman, Chris Sanchez, said last week.
But unlike HB 99, the driving card in SB 256 would be available not only to undocumented immigrants, but also to anyone with lawful status – meaning citizens wouldn’t be forced to get the Real ID-compliant license.
The second-tier cards under SB 256 would be good for two years – as opposed to HB 99’s one year – and wouldn’t require submitting fingerprints, as the House-passed bill would. It also doesn’t have HB 99’s requirements to complete licensed driver’s education courses, and pass written and driving tests.
“We’re trying to craft a piece of legislation that can pass the state Senate in a bipartisan vote – both Democrats and Republicans on board,” Smith said.
His 2015 bill, which passed 35-5, had as its second tier a driver’s license that was not compliant with Real ID. It also would have been available to both undocumented immigrants and those here legally.
The bill would allow qualified drivers to exchange their current licenses for Real ID-compliant licenses with the same expiration dates at no cost.
Unrelated to Real ID compliance, the bill also increases the age at which annual driver’s license renewals are required from 75 to 79.
There was no immediate comment on the legislation from Martinez’s office or from the statewide immigrants’ rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
The legislation is one of five bills that are expected to be considered today in the Senate Public Affairs Committee.
“Hopefully, we can come up with a compromise that’s acceptable to all the parties,” said Committee Chairman Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.
Also on the agenda, in addition to HB 99, is Senate Bill 174, which has a license as its second tier, making it more similar to the legislation the Senate passed last year. It, too, would allow the non Real ID-compliant license to go to citizens and others here legally, as well as to undocumented immigrants.
Immigrants’ rights advocates have objected that a driving card carried only by undocumented immigrants would amount to a “scarlet letter” subjecting them to discrimination and harassment.
Another measure, Senate Bill 216, sponsored by Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, would create a Real ID-compliant license and require the cancellation of existing licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Senate Bill 231, by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, takes an entirely different approach to making New Mexico compliant with the Real ID law.
It sidesteps the issue of driver’s licenses and instead would create a Real ID-compliant identification card that New Mexicans could apply for to have ID that was acceptable at secure federal facilities and for airline travel.
Some federal installations have already begun cracking down on the use of New Mexico licenses as ID at secure facilities and the current deadline for having Real ID-compliant licenses for air travel is January 2018.