- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As neighboring states like Virginia make it increasingly difficult for illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses, Maryland is increasingly becoming an island — a state that stands alone as a weak point when it comes to maintaining the integrity of driver’s licenses. Maryland is one of just five states that do not require that driver’s license applicants be able to show they are in the United States legally, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA).

Bills introduced by Sen. David Brinkley, Frederick Republican (S.B. 621) and Delegate Ron George, Anne Arundel Republican, requiring that applicants for driver’s licenses provide a birth certificate or other evidence showing that they are legally present in the United States, have stalled. With just 15 days left before the conclusion of the regular 2008 session of the General Assembly, chances for both bills are fading fast.

In the 141-member House, Mr. George has 58 sponsors — all 37 Republicans plus 21 Democrats — for his bill (H.B. 288) to require that effective Oct. 1, license applicants must be able to demonstrate by that they are legally present in Maryland. The measure is being bottled up in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Delegate Joseph Vallario, Prince George’s Democrat, who is strongly opposed. And Mr. Vallario would be unable to do this without the active support of his legislative boss: House Speaker Michael Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.

Mr. O’Malley is in a very difficult political position. In January, the governor and Transportation Secretary John Porcari had put forward a plan to replace the current license system with a two-tier plan similar to the ill-fated one proposed last year by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in which persons legally in the United States could get a license they could use to board airplanes or enter federal buildings. But Mr. Spitzer’s plan had collapsed several months earlier, and Mr. O’Malley’s popularity ratings had plummeted to the point that his popularity rating was lower than that of President Bush. According to a Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll released in early January, Marylanders gave the governor a 33 percent job-approval rating, slightly below Mr. Bush’s rating. The poll also showed that 66 percent of respondents favored giving police the right to check the immigration status of drivers when they are pulled over for a traffic violation, while 76 percent said illegals should be barred from obtaining driver’s licenses. But at the same time, however, the governor was coming under pressure from CASA of Maryland — the state’s number one lobbying group for illegal aliens — not to yield at all.

For now, the O’Malley administration’s legislative priority is killing off the Brinkley and George Bills. So, the MVA has quietly released position papers which take no official position on either bill, raising questions about the costs and “confusion” resulting from the new regulations (welcome to government 101). Bureaucratic niceties aside, the bottom line is this: if H.B. 288 and S.B. 621 die this year, the governor believes that in 2009, with a Democrat in the White House, tougher standards for obtaining driver’s licenses will whither on the vine.

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