An attempt to force a House vote on a bill that would repeal the state law allowing New Mexico to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants fell short on Wednesday.
Although Republicans were successful in getting House Bill 606 out of the House Labor and Human Resources Committee — which had tabled the measure last week — a subsequent tally of the full House to “blast” the bill out of another committee was one vote shy of getting the bill onto the House floor.
Technically, the bill still is alive. However, the clock is ticking on the session, which ends at noon March 16. To get to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk, the bill also would have to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. A Senate committee on Tuesday voted along party lines to kill a similar bill.
The driver’s license issue has been a priority of Martinez, who made repeal of the 2003 law, which was championed by her predecessor, Bill Richardson, a major issue in her campaign.
In the previous two sessions, the House passed repeal bills, which went on to die in the Senate. However, last year Republicans lost two seats in the House, which weakened support for the repeal in the Legislature.
House Republican Whip Nate Gentry of Albuquerque led the charge in trying to blast the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque.
Gentry said the House should debate the issue because there’s support among New Mexico voters to repeal the 2003 law. The latest form of the bill, he said, is less restrictive than the bills approved by the House the previous two years. “It’s a good compromise, and every attempt that we’ve made to address this issue has failed,” he said.
HB 606 would provide temporary licenses to those immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are covered by an executive order issued last year by President Barack Obama deferring deportation. But no licenses would be issued to other immigrants who illegally crossed the border.
But opponents say the bill is not a real compromise. The young immigrants covered by Obama’s order are considered to be lawfully in the country and thus can get work permits and Social Security numbers, which allow them to get a regular driver’s license in New Mexico.
In opposing the blast, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, noted there are more than 600 bills that have been introduced in the House this year. “This is the most important issue to bring to this body’s attention at this time?” he chided Gentry. “How many jobs does this bill create? … I think getting New Mexicans back to work is the most important issue.”
Freshman Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard, D-Los Alamos, was one of four Democrats to join Republicans in voting to blast the bill on the first vote, 36-34, which removed the bill from the Labor Committee, where it had been tabled. However, she later voted against removing the bill from the Judiciary and Appropriations and Finance committees.
After the hearing, Garcia-Richard said she voted to move the bill out of the Labor Committee because she wanted to give it to a committee that would give it “more input.”
“I have some real issues with the bill,” she said. Many of her constituents are concerned that the licenses granted by the state are not compliant with the federal Real ID Act, which eventually might mean state licence-holders would have to use other forms of ID — such as a birth certificate or a U.S. passport — to board planes or enter federal buildings. “It still needs a lot of work,” she said.
The Real ID issue has become a major selling point for Martinez and others who want to repeal the driver’s license law. However, opponents of the bill point out that only 19 states have licenses that comply with the federal law and many have passed laws prohibiting compliance with the Real ID Act. The government has pushed back the deadline for compliance several times since Congress passed the law in 2005.
In her successful campaign for her legislative seat last year, Garcia-Richard repeatedly said she would vote to repeal the 2003 law allowing the undocumented to get driver’s licenses.
While Garcia-Richard voted against moving the bill out of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, voted in favor of the blast, so again the vote was 36-34. Moments after the vote was announced, Trujillo said she had accidentally pushed the wrong button and that she meant to vote no. However, according to House rules, her nay vote stood, so the bill was moved to the appropriations panel, where the House deadlocked on a 35-35 vote.
The Democrats who voted to blast the bill on all the votes taken Wednesday were Rep. Mary Helen Garcia of Las Cruces, Donna Irwin of Deming and Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint.
Like New Mexico, the state of Washington allows regular driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Utah grants a special driving permit to immigrants that can’t be used for identification. Illinois passed a law this year allowing special licenses for undocumented immigrants, but the new licenses won’t be available for several months.
Contact Steve Terrell at email@example.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.