Sen. Smith: License bill appeals to both sides

Milan Simonich
The Santa Fe New Mexican
People who oppose Rep. Paul Pacheco’s House Bill 99, R-Albuquerque, listen in at the house chambers at the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee on Thursday.

SANTA FE — State Sen. John Arthur Smith says he’s still hopeful of a compromise on driver’s licenses for immigrants. But, he says, the House Republican bill for driving privilege cards would be unacceptable to most in the Senate because it contains what he calls “the Scarlet Letter” — everyone with the card would be identifiable to police as an undocumented immigrant.

“That’s the component where you have concerns about racial profiling,” Smith, D-Deming, said Friday. “The proof in the pudding of a true compromise is that you have to get it out of the Legislature. With the Scarlet Letter, you have opposition to the House bill.”

Democratic Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque and George Muñoz of Gallup have introduced an alternative to the House proposal for driving privilege cards. Their bill is for a two-tiered driver’s license system that would make the state compliant with the federal Real ID Act and allow immigrants to be licensed without flagging them.

The two-tier bill would allow U.S. citizens who don’t want a Real ID-compliant driver’s license to receive the same, secondary license as someone without proof of immigration status. This license would be good for driving but not for federal purposes, such as boarding an aircraft.

Smith said the two-tier bill appeals to conservatives and liberals.

“I know I’ve got some conservative farmers and ranchers in my coffee club down south that aren’t interested in having their information turned over to the federal government” by getting a Real ID-compliant license, he said.

Giving citizens a choice of what type of driver’s license they want would make sense for another reason, Smith said. Someone who drives but doesn’t fly could avoid the time and possible expense of having to present his or her birth certificate and Social Security card at a Motor Vehicle Division field office to obtain a Real ID-compliant license.

The proposal by Ivey-Soto and Muñoz is almost identical to a bill that Smith and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, got through the Senate last year on a 35-5 vote. Eleven Republicans and all 24 Democrats voted for it. That bill later died in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Demesia Padilla, Cabinet secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees Motor Vehicle Division field offices, said this week that the Senate bill by Smith and Ingle did not meet specifications of the Real ID Act. Padilla, as part of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, is supporting the House bill for driving privilege cards.

Smith, though, said the bill for two-tier licenses meets all the federal requirements. “Demesia admitted behind the scenes that she had to say that, but it is compliant” with the Real ID Act, Smith said.

Smith and Ingle, longtime senators with conservative credentials as budget hawks, are continuing to discuss how they can engineer a compromise on driver’s licenses that would clear both chambers of the Legislature. “Stu and I are talking, and we’re going to try to get something through,” Smith said.

The key to getting any a bill approved on immigrant licenses is bipartisan support, he said.

Ivey-Soto, who represents a swing district in Albuquerque, has opposed a licensing bill in which immigrants would be pinpointed and then possibly harassed. But he has other reasons for supporting a bill that would allow U.S. citizens to keep their current driver’s license, rather than getting the federally compliant license.

“What I have heard very clearly from the business community and my neighborhood is they want a fix and they don’t want to turn in their license or have it invalidated. That’s what my bill does, and that’s what the governor’s bill doesn’t do,” Ivey-Soto said.