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How the new driver’s license law will affect you

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Now that the long-running legislative fight over New Mexico driver’s licenses is finally in the rearview mirror, some drivers would say it is time to talk about what is likely to change in a visit to the MVD in the not-so-distant future.

On March 8, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the law that puts the state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. It includes more stringent rules for issuing licenses that can be used for federal purposes such as boarding a commercial flight or entering a secure government facility.

Martinez signed HB 99 with much fanfare at the Albuquerque International Sunport, with Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, as well as bill co-sponsor Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, at her side. It was years in the making, and a big deal in a state that has become a magnet for driver’s licence fraudsters – and a state that butters much of its economic bread via secure federal military and research installations.

Right about now, many readers are going, “Oh, blah, blah, blah – that’s all politics. What the heck does Real ID mean to me?”

Let’s let Padilla lay it out for you:

By the end of the year, if the Department of Homeland Security approves her department’s plan and design, MVD offices will begin issuing Real ID-compliant licenses to residents who are getting a new license or renewing an existing license and can show they are in the country legally, and driver’s authorization cards to those who either can’t or choose not to.

The lag time is because Tax & Rev officials “need to make sure we eliminate chaos and make the document (Real ID license) as safe as possible,” Padilla says. New security measures will be added to the 12 security features the state implemented in 2008 that included laser perforation, microprinting and biometric facial recognition. Then, Homeland Security has to approve it all, and, then, the vendor that makes the licenses and driver cards will have to reprogram its system accordingly before going into production.

For a Real ID-license

Once the new system is approved and production set up, drivers seeking a Real ID-compliant license – good for either four or eight years – will have to prove “lawful status.” Padilla says that will mean showing two of these three: a birth certificate, Social Security card or passport. Her office is still working out what, if any, additional documents will be accepted, particularly for drivers born on tribal lands or at home, and those will again require an OK from Homeland Security.

“All I can do is try” to get additional documents accepted, she says.

Current driver’s licenses are Real ID-compliant under an agreement with Homeland Security, so drivers don’t need to visit MVD until it’s time to renew. The one exception is if your license expires after Oct. 1, 2020. MVD plans to send out reminder letters when that date is nearer to alert license holders that to continue to have a Real ID-compliant license, they need to renew before that date.

For a driver’s card

As for the documents needed to get a driver’s authorization card – which is not Real ID-compliant and thus good only for driving, and issued for two years with renewals good for four years – the state will accept a Social Security number, a passport or ID card from a foreign consulate, a valid New Mexico license or a letter of enrollment/ID card from a recognized Indian nation, tribe or pueblo.

It will also continue to accept individual tax ID numbers, one of the key unsecured documents fraudsters have used to get licenses to date. Padilla says her department fought hard to get those off the list but in the end compromised because under the new system they cannot be used to get a Real ID-compliant license.

The other documents popular among criminals are those used for proof of residence. New Mexico accepts rental agreements, which can be purchased by the ream in office supply stores and filled out with fake information. Padilla says her office is looking at the wording in House Bill 99 to see how she can “tighten up” proof of residency to rely on documents that are tougher to forge, such as bank statements and utility bills.

Hidden senior bonus

On Page 14 of the 35-page bill is a three-line provision that raises the age at which drivers have to annually renew their licenses – which has nothing to do with Real ID. The age had been 75, which MVD and Tax and Rev have argued is a good one for drivers to start considering self-limiting their driving. The rationale has been that if an annual trip to the MVD for a free renewal is too much, or if the eye test turns up vision problems, maybe it’s time to turn over the keys.

Under HB 99, that age increases to 79.

Padilla says her office has safety concerns about raising the age. She said the office looked into what other states are doing and found that “there appears to be a movement” to increase the age for annual renewals. In the end, it was more important for the state to get Real ID-compliant than fight this fight, she said.

No changes for now

Until Homeland Security signs off on the state’s plan, Padilla says, “it’s business as usual” for drivers at the MVD. She says there will be no changes to what drivers need to take to the MVD until then, which she hopes will be “before Jan. 1, but sooner is better.” Drivers can see what they need to take to the MVD for various services at

Knowing sooner rather than later what additional documents will be accepted for the new driver’s licenses or authorization cards will be better still. Padilla says her office will be working hard to get the word out to eliminate that chaos she mentioned that can come with change.

Stay tuned.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.


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