- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A Republican lawmaker who has previously sought to repeal New Mexico’s immigrant driver’s license law said he will propose a bill next session modeled after one in Utah that allows foreign nationals to have “driving privilege cards.”

New Mexico Rep. Paul Pacheco said he will sponsor legislation that would grant state driving privilege cards for immigrants - even those suspected of living in the country illegally.

Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said he decided to look at the Utah model to end a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats over revising a law that allows immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses regardless of status.

“I’m hopeful. I don’t know if it will have the support or if the governor will support it, but I’m going to try,” Pacheco said.

The move came after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently denied New Mexico an extension from imposing tougher federal requirements on state driver’s licenses. The decision means New Mexico IDs won’t be valid for federal purposes. Federal officials say New Mexico IDs won’t be accepted next year for boarding commercial aircraft.

Pacheco’s previous bill, which would have halted the issuing of new licenses for some immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally, was passed by the GOP-controlled House earlier this year. But the Democratic-led Senate failed to take it up.

The Senate, however, passed a measure that would have created another version of a two-tier system. It would have granted a REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses and noncompliant IDs so immigrants could continue to receive New Mexico driver’s licenses. The House refused to consider that bill.

Gov. Susana Martinez, who lobbied for repealing the state’s driver’s license law as she ran for re-election, said she is willing to work with Democrats on a compromise, but Democrats keep changing what they would accept to revise the law.

In a statement, her office stopped short of endorsing Pacheco’s new proposal but signaled she was opened to ideas.

“As with every year, Gov. Martinez is willing to work across the aisle, but that would have to include a true two-tier system, and it would have to stop the giving (of) driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said he was hopeful both parties could compromise on bill after years of gridlock.

“It’s unfortunate that we are in this position, especially since a majority of New Mexicans want the law repealed,” Gentry said. “But we will try to do what we can and come up with a compromise.”

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the Senate is prepared to work with Republicans again on a bipartisan bill next session. “We passed a bill last session, and the House didn’t take it up,” Sanchez said.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said she was encouraged that Pacheco was moving away from outright repeal and looking at other states for ideas.

“But what’s great about New Mexico is that we don’t have to copy other states,” Diaz said.

Diaz said New Mexico’s REAL ID noncompliance isn’t that big of a deal because many other states are refusing to comply with the federal law. She said the movement to revise New Mexico’s driver’s license law is based on fear rather than a real need for a fix.

“The status quo is fine, obviously,” Diaz said. “The driver’s license law is working. New Mexico has led the country on this issue.”


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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