Unlike the last few years, the federal REAL ID Act was a big topic of discussion during the more-than hours-long debate on the bills.
But the ultimate fate was the same — the committee voted to table the bill on party lines, with Democrats voting to table and Republicans voting against the table.
Representatives of groups that opposed the bill packed the committee room. Those who backed the bill were law enforcement officials and representatives and members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, was the same as the one that was sponsored by then-Rep. Andy Nuñez each of the past two years. Nuñez, who was the lone independent in the legislature, lost reelection last November.
The other bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque. His bill would revoke and give a refund for licenses away drivers licenses that current undocumented immigrants legally obtained. Taking the licenses away from undocumented immigrants who legally obtained those licenses was in the original bill by Nuñez but was removed after some said it violated the due process clause of the U.S Constitution.
Secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department Demesia Padilla said in testimony on Pacheco’s bill that it would end the strain on the Taxation and Revenue Department over combating fraud.
Padilla said it cost the state $13 to process a drivers license for citizens and $25 to $30 for an undocumented immigrant.
Padilla also said that there was a “negligible” effect on insurance rates, citing a study by New Mexico State Universitiy.
Opponents said that drivers licenses were necessary for families — including undocumented immigrants — to get their children to school or the doctor’s office.
“This bill, it does have a negative impact on some families, and we understand that,” Pacecho said.
But Pacecho said, “This is a country of law. I enforced it for 27 years and though I feel for every person who got up here, it is not my intent on this bill to hurt anyone.”
One high profile opponent of the bill is the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. The group’s executive director Allen Sanchez argued the legislation was unnecessary.
“There is no legislation that needs to be passed,” Sanchez said, because the governor and the Secretary of Taxation and Revenue could write regulations to strengthen address requirements to combat fraud.
The bills being tabled aren’t necessarily the end to the legislation. In each of the past two years, proponents of the repeal have successfully brought the bill directly to the House floor. This is known as blasting a bill and it was highly controversial. The House then passed the legislation, but it was unable to pass the Senate.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are working on a compromise bill — but it may be one that doesn’t pass the muster of Martinez. In the past, Martinez has vowed to veto anything short of an outright repeal.
Debate over REAL ID
The debate over the REAL ID act was a new one to the debate that threatened to turn into a sequel that was the same as the original.
Proponents of the repeal said that in six months, people would not be able to get on airplanes or enter federal buildings using a New Mexico drivers license within six months.
The Albuquerque Journal reported back in December, following a media firestorm by TV and talk radio:
According to Homeland Security, the January deadline applies to states, not individuals. It mandates that states have certain security features on driver’s licenses and identification cards and says they must have a connection to a national database of license information.
Starting in December 2014, a state-issued driver’s license or ID card can’t be used by someone under the age of 50 to enter a federal building or board a commercial airliner unless the license complies with the Real ID requirements.
That applies to everyone else starting in December 2017.
The state itself received an extension to the January deadline before Christmas.
Note: This article updated for clarity.