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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

SJC Amendment to Nunez Bill Keeps Licenses for Immigrants, Tightens Penalties

Late yesterday, the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) approved sweeping amendments to the House driver’s license bill (HB 78) originally sponsored by Rep. Andy Nunez (DTS-Hatch). The sponsor of the amendments, Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), offered them as a compromise to the House bill. The SJC approved the amendments on a mostly party-line vote of 6-5, with only one Democrat, Sen. Tim Eichenberg (D-Albuquerque), voting no.

The bill itself then passed "without recommendation" by a margin of 9-2 and will head to the Senate floor for a debate and vote, possibly as early as today. Expect more fireworks. If the amended bill gains passage there, the measure will have to return to the House for approval of the new language.

The accord was designed to address concerns about security and safety by increasing penalties on fraudulent applicants, toughening proof of New Mexico residency and requiring renewal every two years. Sen. Wirth’s amendment requires the Motor Vehicle Department to identify people who were issued licenses without a Social Security number and notify them they must present valid documentation within two years or face license cancellation. They can also reapply for a new license but would only be eligible if they meet the stricter requirements.

“The agreement was a collaboration and is a testament to what can be accomplished when people are committed to finding a solution,” Sen. Wirth said after the vote. “The 9 to 2 final vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on HB 78 shows Democrats and Republicans working together on an issue that concerns many of us here in New Mexico,” Wirth continued.

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee say they hope the compromise measure reaches open ears with opponents as the Legislature works towards doing what is right for all people living in New Mexico.

Committee Testimony
The SJC hearing featured some heated testimony on both sides of the issue, with supporters accusing Martinez and her cronies of manufacturing the alleged crisis with the licenses solely for political gain. Sen. Eric Griego (D-Albuquerque) made a number of references to the Governor's use of radio ads and robo-calls paid for with leftover campaign funds to gin up an atmosphere of fear. "Fear works great for campaigning," said Griego.

Sen. Griego noted that if fraud is the problem, the committee bill should solve it. If the problem is the GOP's conservative national agenda, it's not a solution. "This is not about substance. This is about politics," Griego said. "This issue has ... sucked the oxygen out of this building. For what?" Griego added. "This isn't the people's work. This is divisive. This is a waste of time."

In an unusual move, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) spoke to the committee to promote the amendment, which he called a compromise that "can move us down the road." Jennings, who is not a member of the SJC, had proposed a similar compromise on Monday. Jennings said overturning the policy would hurt families and was the wrong thing to do. Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) weighed in afterwards, calling it "a good-faith effort to try to resolve a very difficult issue."

At one point, the committee heard from Alberto Lino of Las Cruces, who addressed the committee from his wheelchair and began to cry while explaining that his wife is an undocumented immigrant, and that he depends on her to drive him around town. He pleaded with the committee to be more human, saying," I don't drive. My wife drives. What do I do?"

Meanwhile, opponents from Gov. Susana Martinez's administration made some wild claims about widespread abuse of the licenses during the hearing. For instance, Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla said, “It’s unfortunate that this issue has been combined with immigration. Thirty-five percent of the individuals who want licenses come in around 8 AM and are leaving the state by sundown." Quite a preposterous and unprovable claim, especially considering she's only been in office about a month. As far as I know, nothing was offered as proof of her assertion.

In the end, however, they failed to provide much in the way of documentation of their case. Rep. Andy Nuñez, who had led the charge to "blast" his bill to the floor of the House without any committee consideration, wasn't pleased with the amendments and said parts of his original bill had been "eviscerated."

Susana Martinez Issues Vitriolic Response
Immediately after the bill's passage, Gov. Susana Martinez issued a scathing statement attacking the bill:

The bill in its current form is a sham and insults the intelligence of every New Mexican who wants to see this dangerous law overturned. New Mexicans deserve an up-or-down vote on a bill that will actually stop the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants to protect the people of New Mexico, rather than a sham bill designed to protect politicians from being honest with their constituents.

Martinez has been using the repeal of licenses for immigrants as a primary wedge issue in an attempt to whip up her tea party supporters, garner national attention and lay the groundwork for attack ads in the 2012 election cycle. Susana and her operatives have devoted perhaps more time on this issue than any other during this legislative session -- and have at times packed the press room at the Roundhouse to capture hoped-for "gotcha" moments on the part of Democrats to use in campaign ads down the road.

Democratic Party Head Calls Martinez Divisive
The Democratic Party of New Mexico issued a response to Martinez's rejection of the compromise bill, asserting that Martinez is apparently still in full campaign mode more than four months after the election. DPNM Chair Javier Gonzales said,

Susana Martinez's rhetoric and actions seek to divide New Mexicans. And what's even worse? She has spent absolutely no time during her first legislative legislative session focused on what the people truly care about: jobs and job creation. Let her adopt the no-compromises attitude of George W. Bush and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Getting her driver's license bill by attacking those who disagree with her won't change the fact that her lack of leadership on jobs so far has been appalling.

In fact, the only substantive thing she's done so far on jobs is to kill them -- leading a personal crusade to kill the film industry in New Mexico.

On Friday, Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, had characterized the original Nunez bill"extremism," saying, "We're looking for a compromise." Sanchez suggested that a compromise could include, for example, a requirement that license-holders renew their licenses every year or two, tighter regulations on identification, and tougher penalties for fraudulent applications. And that's exactly what the SJC approved.

March 9, 2011 at 11:54 AM in Border Issues, Democratic Party, Eric Griego, Hispanic Issues, Immigration, NM Legislature 2011, Susana Martinez | Permalink

Comments

Good policy with good politics. The SJC Dems essentially said, "We'll help solve any substantive problems with the program, but we won't go along with Republican immigrant bashing."

Of course Oh Susana is livid. She'd rather rule by fiat than respect the legislative process. Good luck with that!

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Mar 9, 2011 1:31:06 PM

I say the Dems should have killed it, saying Susana is off base, hysterical and doing this only for political reasons. Does anyone know what the amendments spell out on the penalties and requirements?

Posted by: Leaner | Mar 9, 2011 1:44:59 PM

Smart move because it undercuts Martinez's argument about terrorists and fraudsters and keeps the licenses going. I would like to see the ID requirements though.

Posted by: Old Dem | Mar 9, 2011 1:56:45 PM

Does this add more bureaucratic burden on ordinary citizens? Is it going to add costs at the DMV? Is it going to cost me more to hold a driver's license? Am I going to have to cough up more paperwork and stand in line at the DMV more often?

Posted by: qofdisks | Mar 9, 2011 3:21:07 PM

gofdisks: Hard to know as no fiscal impact report (FIR) is out yet on this.

Posted by: barb | Mar 9, 2011 3:42:03 PM