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Drivers license debate: The sequel might turn out like the original

By Matthew Reichbach

The debate over drivers licenses for foreign nationals looks like it may be a replay of 2011. The bill failed in a House committee Thursday, but the sponsor of the bill, Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch), vowed to once again blast the bill to the floor of the House, bypassing the committee process.

The debate once again was polarized with opponents on both sides flooding the largest legislative committee chamber to express their opinion on the subject.

Ultimately, the House Labor and Human Resources Committee chose to pass a substitute version of the legislation and table the original legislation. The substitute bill echoes the drivers license legislation passed by the Senate last year, which the Senate described as a compromise bill.

Proponents of the repeal touted a recent Associated Press report that indicated fraud in drivers license procurement while opponents of the repeal said the reported fraud could be handled with better enforcement and more stringent laws rather than the drastic measure of the repeal.

The substitute bill would instate tighter residency requirements, limit drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants to two years and increase penalties for anyone involved in purchasing drivers licenses through fraudulent means.

Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla told NMPolitics.net reporter Gwyneth Doland that there was 80 percent fraud in the drivers license process. It is unclear what sample Padilla is using in her claims, however.

You can listen to the interview for yourself: 
Secretary Demesia Padilla on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants by gwyneth-doland

Even if the substitute version of the drivers license legislation passes the House — not an assurance as Democrats have a razor-thin majority and Democrat-turned-Independent Andy Nuñez vehemently opposes the substitute legislation — and the Senate, Gov. Susana Martinez has expressed her opposition to the bill.

If the substitute bill does not pass the House and Nuñez’s original version does, it will likely once again fail in the state Senate. If this turns out to be the outcome, the drivers license debate will be nothing but a rerun of 2011.


Democrats have characterized Martinez and the Republicans as unwilling to compromise. In her State of the State address, however, Martinez said she compromised by adopting something that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Al Park (D-Albuquerque) said.

Milan Simonich subsequently dug into the statement that raised eyebrows at New Mexico Capitol Report and found that the claims of compromise were dubious at best.

Park, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview that Nunez’s initial bill would have revoked the driver’s licenses of foreign nationals. This would have subjected those in the country legally and illegally to losing their driver’s licenses.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said Nunez simply could not take away more than 80,000 driver’s licenses that motorists had paid for. They had a property right to what they had purchased.

Maestas said revocations would have cost cash-poor New Mexico millions of dollars in refunds.

Keith Gardner also made a claim about a compromise during the hearing. From KRQE reporter Katie Kim:

The substitute bill now heads to House Judiciary Committee.

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