New Mexico Senate Strikes Bipartisan Compromise on Driver’s Licenses for All New Mexico Residents

Yesterday, the Senate Public Affairs Committee (SPAC) passed Senate Bill 653 (SB 653), co-sponsored by Senators Stewart Ingle (R-27- Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea & Roosevelt) and  John Arthur Smith (D-35- Dona Ana, Hidalgo, Luna & Sierra), to establish a two-tiered system for the issuance of driver’s licenses and ID cards in New Mexico. The bill passed by a vote of 5-3.

Under the bill’s proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Code, the same licenses that would be given to United States (U.S.) citizens, may be applied for by non-U.S. citizens. These could not be used by federal agencies for official federal purposes, but would allow for legal operation of vehicles in the state. Non-U.S. applicants would not need to provide proof of lawful presence in the U.S. or a social security number with their applications; they could instead present a tax identification number or passport. A second tier, Federal REAL ID compliant licenses, will also be issued to U.S. citizens or legal immigrants who apply for them.

“This bill is a prime example of compromise at its best,” said SPAC Chairman Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-12-Bernalillo). “Legislators were well aware of the danger we would be putting the public in if we denied licenses to undocumented immigrants. Many of us on both sides are weary of how political this issue has become. We have many other important issues facing our state and with this bipartisan compromise, we can now move beyond these wedge issues used for political gain.”

“The efforts made by Democrats and Republicans to create a bill that protects all citizens was the ultimate goal here. The so-called, rumored ‘political gridlock’ holds no water in the Senate and we intend to take care of business for the people of New Mexico. I think this bill proves just that,” added Sen. Smith. “I’m pleased we got the votes to get this through committee. There was no reason to regress. I look forward to seeing the bill’s progress in the House of Representatives.”

The legislation mandates that the first tier licenses bear a new design and color from the second tier licenses. The first tier design would clearly state it would not be used for official federal purposes. The second tier licenses would be compliant with Federal REAL ID requirements.  The Taxation and Revenue Department would establish two distinct driver’s licenses by December 1, 2015 if this bill is signed into law.

Marcela Diaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide immigrants’ rights organization, has expressed support of the bill saying, “This compromise marks a welcome breakthrough in this five-year ordeal. It acknowledges that immigrant drivers in New Mexico need to be licensed, registered and insured, and it does not single out or discriminate against immigrant families. Finally, we see a REAL ID solution that isn’t meant to punish hard-working immigrants.”