- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UPDATED:

ANNAPOLIS

Differences between the House and Senate are jeopardizing an effort to end the state’s status as one of only four that issue driver’s licenses without proof of legal status - a fact critics say has made Maryland a magnet for illegal immigrants wishing to obtain a license.

The state Senate on Monday voted 36-11 in favor of a bill that will bar illegal immigrants from obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. The House of Delegates voted 77-60 to pass an alternative bill that will allow those who already have a license but can’t prove their legal status to continue to renew the license after the legislation is enforced June 1.

“This is coming right down to the wire, and if we can’t settle on something soon it will jeopardize any bill from passing at all,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican.



If the two chambers cannot agree to a definitive version of the bill, they will be forced to reconcile their bills in a closed-door conference committee. But with the legislative session ending April 13, there is concern that time may run out before a finalized piece of legislation is agreed upon by both chambers.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and officials from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) are pressed to ensure the state comes into compliance with the Federal REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires that each state adopt measures preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses and other legal forms of identification. Maryland has until Jan. 20 to comply with the act.

The House version originally had been drafted so a “two-tier” system would not be established. The bill was amended last week to allow those who cannot prove their legal status to keep their current licenses as of June 1.

Proponents of the House version say that it will help the state meet several benchmarks specified by the REAL ID statute, such as creating a statewide security plan, which their original bill did not.

“The amended bill puts us in compliance with federal regulations, the original bill did not do that,” said Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, Montgomery County Democrat.

Critics say the House version was patched together at the last minute without deliberation from opponents.

“This reflects the system here in Annapolis, its not how things should work. Its passing legislation through stealth,” said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Washington County Republican.

House Republicans failed to change their bill back to a one-tier system, and lawmakers say the Senate will be keen to adopt its one-tier bill.

“The Senate is definitely the more conservative body and they aren’t likely to give up on a one-tier bill” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who supports a two-tier system.

MVA officials testified against a two-tier system last month, citing a possible $30 million price tag for adopting it. Opponents say if the House versions becomes law, it will force taxpayers to subsidize those who in the country illegally.

“Marylanders are going to have to pay to make illegal immigrants a protected class, it’s a horrible thing for the legislature to be doing,” said Susan Payne, executive director of Maryland Citizens First.

Mr. Madaleno said refusing to let illegal immigrants obtain a driver’s license will persuade many of them to simply drive without one.

“It’s a public safety issue. When I’m driving on the Beltway, I want to know whether the driver in front of me knows what he’s doing. I’m not concerned with anything else,” he said.

Sen. David Harrington, Prince George Democrat, said that to expect illegal immigrants to simply give up driving to work or taking their children to school is impractical. “This bill does not make sense- do we actually believe people will stop driving. We need a two-tier system,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that he is aware of the division between the two chambers and is hoping that the two versions can achieve some common ground soon.

“The governor is working with both chambers to ensure that Maryland is not the only state on the East Coast that is not REAL ID compliant,” O’Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen said.

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