Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: First Shot Fired in Driver's License Battle

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 6, 2013

Once again, it appears that the state Legislature will take up the issue of immigrants here illegally being able to obtain driver's licenses legally in the state.

For good or for ill, that's the major issue with which Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has become associated. However, the first shot fired in what's become an annual battle has been fired by Democrats.

Sen. Campos
Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, whom Senate Democrats have nominated to become the next Senate president pro-tem, last week sent reporters an opinion piece in which he endorsed establishing a new level of driver's licenses. The new license would meet the requirements of the federal Real ID Act, requiring documentation proving the licensee is a citizen of these United States.

"New Mexicans who want to use their driver's license rather than a passport card or other federally approved identification to board an airplane could apply for the Real ID-compliant license by providing the various proof-of-citizenship documentation required by the federal government ..." Campos said in his article.

He said that the fee for the Real ID might be higher than the regular old license, but would be cheaper than the $55 fee for a passport card, which is valid for 10 years.

"New Mexicans who don't need or want the Real ID-compliant license, or are not eligible for it because they are not here legally, could stick with the standard, less expensive license, " Campos said.

Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who oversees the Motor Vehicles Division, said the administration won't be backing such a bill. "The reality is that it doesn't address the public-safety problems I've talked about, " she said.

Martinez raised the issue of Real ID a few months ago in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. At that point, the deadline for states to comply with the act was Jan. 13. But the agency eventually announced that the deadline for states to comply with the act would be pushed back again.

So far, only 13 states have complied with the act. Meanwhile, 17 states have gone the other way, adopting laws prohibiting complying with the Real ID Act.

A star in Iowa: Campos pointed out that other states have or are considering a two-tiered license system. The day after Campos sent his op-ed, The Des Moines Register reported that the state of Iowa would soon be giving residents who are renewing their licenses a choice: "Submit additional documentation as necessary to obtain a Real ID or continue to use a standard-issued license or ID card ..."

One big difference though: first-time applicants for driver's licenses or state identification cards in Iowa will have to submit all the documentation required for Real ID.

The two types of cards in Iowa will look pretty much like the current driver's license there. "The only difference will be a star verification mark appearing in the upper-right corner of the card." That will tell federal officials that the person's identity has been verified according to the act's standards.

"Issuing more than one type of license ensures that all drivers, whether they are in the country legally or not, have passed a driving test, have good driving records and are properly insured, " Campos wrote.

Could this pass in New Mexico? Campos gave his piece the subject line "Compromise Is Possible on Driver's License Issue." He could be right.

During the past two sessions, the House passed the bill to repeal the 2003 driver's license bill. The Senate responded by passing bills to still allow driver's licenses for undocumented residents but added more restrictions. Martinez staunchly opposed the Senate version. And at the time, there wasn't enough support in the House to go along with the Senate changes.

It's not hard to imagine the Senate going for a bill such as the one Campos suggests. The House might be more iffy.

But it would be interesting to see whether Martinez would actually veto a measure that would get the state in compliance with the federal law.