After several hours-long debate sessions, the New Mexico House of Representatives on Friday night passed a bill to deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.


The bill, a floor substitute for Doña Ana DTS ("decline to state" political affiliation) Rep. Andy Nuñez' HB 78, passed the House 42-28. (Click here to see voting results.)

The bill raised questions at the state House Friday, as lawmakers contended that an hours-long debate on whether to "blast" the bill out of two House committees and onto the floor applied to the original bill, not the substitute. ("Blasting" is a rare procedural move essentially allowing a bill to skip over its assigned committees.) That motion, however, was voted down by Republicans and a few Dems.

While the original version of HB 78 would have denied driver's licenses to anyone without a Social Security number, thereby depriving many legal immigrants of licenses, the substitute bill (pdf here) contains an exception "for applicants ineligible for a social security number." (It doesn't say, however, whether such "ineligible" applicants will have to prove they're ineligible.)

Still, any foreign national applying for a driver's license in New Mexico must furnish his/her "valid passport, valid visa, or other arrival-departure record or document issued by the federal department of homeland security" as part of his/her application. Licenses are then to be issued only for the duration the passport/visa/other document allows the person in question to reside legally in the US.

Most of the House debate centered around procedural issues, such as whether the chamber's three-hour debate rule applied to each individual portion of a motion or only to a given motion as a whole. House Majority Leader W Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, attempted to present his own floor substitute bill that would have included penalties for furnishing fraudulent documentation in a license application and revoking existing licenses held by "illegal" immigrants.

Nuñez' substitute bill contains no revocation language, meaning foreign nationals currently holding licenses will not be affected.

Much of the debate also focused on the lack of public input on the substitute bill. Part of the point of the committee process, many lawmakers pointed out, is to allow the public to weigh in on the bill in question. Since the substitute for HB 78 was presented only on the House floor, non-lawmakers had no opportunity to express their viewpoints.

In a heated moment on Thursday, Nuñez admitted that approximately three-fourths of the people who did attend the committee hearing for the original bill were opposed to it. Lawmakers also expressed concerns that without the scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, the bill's potential legal ramifications weren't being properly vetted.

But--presuming the Senate doesn't pull the same "blasting" procedure--its time will come. The substitute for HB 78 now heads to the Senate, where it will be reassigned to committees and, if it passes, will be debated again on the Senate floor. On Thursday, however, the Senate Public Affairs Committee tabled a nearly identical bill, SB 518 (pdf here) sponsored by Republican Sen. John Ryan.

The fiscal impact report (pdf) for that bill predicts revenue losses to the state of $2.1 million and cost savings of $3.4 million by FY2015; however, in its first year, such a bill is projected to cost the state $43,000 in costs and revenue losses.

One other source of friction came in the press room Friday night, where three of Gov. Susana Martinez' staff members crowded reporters while they took video footage and ate lunch.

To stay up-to-date on legislative issues with SFR and other reporters, follow #nmleg on Twitter.

Background info:

House Bill 78 was first assigned, by House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, to two committees, the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee. After what legislators today described as a 4 1/2-hour hearing in CPAC, the bill was tabled--often considered a bill's death knell.

But for the better part of last week, the bill's sponsor, Andy Nuñez, DTS-Doña Ana (Nuñez--the guy in the photo--is a former Dem who now "Declines to State" his party affiliation) led an attempt to "blast" the bill straight to the House floor for an up-or-down vote.

Some legislators suggested yesterday that Nuñez' bill is an apparent answer to Gov. Susana Martinez' call, in a Feb. 19 press release (pdf), for a straight vote on the issue of allowing driver's licenses for immigrants. On Thursday, Nuñez' maintained that the bill had nothing to do with the governor and made a three-part motion:

1) To move HB 78, in its original form, from CPAC to the House Judiciary Committee;

2) To move HB 78 from Judiciary to the House floor (and put it on the agenda);

3) To debate and vote on the merits of the bill itself.

The first two motions passed, narrowly, last night; the third will be debated today. Also yesterday, a Senate committee quietly tabled a similar bill in the other chamber...