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Driver’s license deal heads to governor

SANTA FE – The Legislature has sent Gov. Susana Martinez a plan to put New Mexico in line with the federal Real ID Act, clearing the way for the state’s driver’s licenses to be acceptable identification at secure federal facilities and airports.

The compromise legislation was one of the biggest challenges of the 30-day session, which ends Thursday.

And it resolves the five-year debate over whether undocumented immigrants should continue to get driver’s licenses.

The House chamber – lawmakers and the public watching from the gallery – broke into spontaneous applause Monday after the final vote was taken.

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The legislation went to Gov. Susana Martinez when the House voted 65-1 to go along with significant changes the Senate had made to the bill, House Bill 99.

Martinez, who supports the compromise, has until March 9 to sign it.

New Mexico Rep. Paul Pacheco

PACHECO: Bill will protect public safety in New Mexico

Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, a sponsor of the original HB 99, said the bill would protect public safety in New Mexico and nationally.

The legislation “ensures that New Mexico will no longer be a magnet for fraud rings that peddle and sell driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants from all over the world,” Pacheco said during a brief debate on the House floor.

MARTINEZ: License issue has been a priority since 2010

MARTINEZ: License issue has been a priority since 2010

Pacheco stressed that, under the legislation, undocumented immigrants would no longer be issued driver’s licenses, as they have been under state law since 2003. That’s been a priority for Martinez since she was elected in 2010.

Instead, undocumented immigrants – and any citizens who want them – will be issued driving authorization cards that are not good for official federal purposes.

Immigrants’ rights groups hailed the legislation because undocumented immigrants will continue to be able to drive legally.

And fingerprinting – which Martinez sought for all undocumented immigrants getting driving cards – is restricted in the compromise to new applicants, those without current New Mexico licenses.

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“Unquestionably, it’s a victory for our immigrant community in New Mexico. … And I think it’s a victory for this process, which has finally worked,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

The original version of HB 99, as approved by the House, would have required New Mexicans here legally to get Real ID licenses. And only undocumented immigrants would have gotten driving cards – a provision opponents said amounted to a “scarlet letter.”

“More than 90,000 of us who have lived, worked and contributed to this state fought successfully for the dignity of our families and in practical terms came out unscathed,” the immigrants’ rights groups Somos Un Pueblo Unido said in a statement.

Lawmakers felt more pressure this year to bring licenses into compliance with the Real ID law because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began enforcing a crackdown on the use of New Mexico licenses at secure federal facilities in January.

The DHS also had announced that, as of January 2018, New Mexico licenses would not be sufficient identification to board commercial airliners for domestic flights.

Under the just-passed legislation, “New Mexicans will not need passports to board a domestic flight or to access our labs and bases,” Pacheco said.

The Taxation and Revenue Department plans to ask the DHS to immediately give New Mexico another extension for Real ID compliance, which would allow current driver’s licenses to be used again to access secure federal facilities, such as military bases.

The legislation requires the department to begin issuing Real ID-compliant licenses within six months.

The department’s plan is to issue new licenses or driving authorization cards when current licenses expire.


WHAT’S NEXT

  • Gov. Susana Martinez would sign House Bill 99 by March 9.
  • Taxation and Revenue Department would ask Department of Homeland Security for an extension to make current New Mexico licenses acceptable again.
  • Taxation and Revenue Department would submit Real ID implementation plan to Department of Homeland Security for approval.
  • Under House Bill 99, Taxation and Revenue would begin issuing Real ID licenses no later than about mid-November.
  • New Mexicans who want to be real ID-compliant could keep their current licenses until they expire, or until 2020, and then get new licenses.

 

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