- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — House Republicans who voted in favor of an amendment that would have stopped illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses said yesterday that they will hold the Democrats who voted against it accountable in the next election.

The amendment was rejected on a 95-42 vote, almost along party lines yesterday. There are 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans in the House. Four delegates did not vote.

“They flexed their muscle today but at a great price,” Delegate Herb McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican and sponsor of the amendment, said of the Democrats. Mr. McMillan tried to add the measure to a bill that deals with criminal background checks for drivers licensed to operate trucks carrying hazardous materials.

Democratic leaders argued that Mr. McMillan violated General Assembly rules, even though Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the bills could be linked.

Bills can be joined only if they deal with the same subject, according to General Assembly rules.

Still, House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat, disagreed with Miss Rowe’s opinion, which she also submitted in writing to the House.

“This amendment goes outside of what is historically and present-day practice,” he said during a debate on the House floor that lasted more than 30 minutes.

Mr. McMillan disagreed: “While I respect this institution, no institution is ever more important than the people it serves.”

Mr. McMillan’s original driver’s license bill was defeated last week in the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee. The amendment was a last-minute effort to get the bill passed.

Four Democrats and four Republicans crossed party lines to vote on the amendment.

Republican Delegates Jeanne Haddaway, Adelaide C. Eckardt and D. Page Elmore of the Eastern Shore, and W. Louis Hennessy of Charles County sided with the Democrats.

Democratic Delegates John P. Donoghue, Washington County; Kevin Kelly, Allegany County; Rosetta C. Parker, Prince George’s County; and Theodore J. “Ted” Sophocleus, Anne Arundel County, voted with the Republicans.

“I think that was an issue of national security,” Mr. Kelly said after the vote. “It is incomprehensible to me that anyone believes aliens — people who are here illegally in this country — should be provided Maryland driver’s licenses. This is a matter of national security.”

The driver’s license bill was the latest defeat for Republicans, who have been struggling throughout the session with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn April 12.

Last month, legislators killed bills submitted by Republican Delegates Pat McDonough, of Baltimore County, and Rick Impallaria, of Harford County, including one that would have allowed the incarceration of illegal aliens as soon as they are identified as such.

Mr. McDonough and Mr. Impallaria have two pending bills that call for a study on how illegal aliens affect the state’s economy.

Mr. McMillan said he drafted the driver’s license bill in response to a legal opinion by State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. that the state must issue driver’s licenses to immigrants even if they cannot “prove [their] lawful presence.”

Mr. Curran’s written opinion follows the state’s efforts to give illegal aliens more access to driver’s licenses. A task force has been appointed to study the issue after an effort to give licenses to illegal aliens failed last year.

Last year, Virginia passed a similar law, which took effect in January, after learning that some of the September 11 hijackers had gotten driver’s licenses and other identification in the state. Lawmakers repealed a law in December that allowed illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses.

The state joined Alabama, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, which have restrictions on licenses to illegal aliens, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Web site.

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