Licenses for illegal immigrants, plus shorter campaigns

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By Hal Rhodes

New Mexicans weary of the contretemps over illegal immigrants and drivers’ licenses, which has engulfed them since Susana Martinez hit the campaign trail back in 2010, were probably surprised to learn that a new law in Illinois permits immigrants without papers to apply for licenses in that state.
So there are now four states that have such laws on their books: New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Illinois.
Four states hardly a bandwagon makes, but with the almost decade-long blockade of anything smacking of immigration reform apparently coming to an end, a number of other states are also toying with the idea.
California, with its huge illegal immigrant population, has long grappled with the problems of unlicensed drivers on its streets and roadways.
Last month the Los Angeles Times reported on a recent study by the California Motor Vehicle Department that finds “Unlicensed drivers in California—the vast majority of whom are illegal immigrants—are nearly three times as likely to cause a fatal crash as licensed drivers.”
Well, the study explained, simply “meeting the modest requirements necessary to get a license—passing a written exam and driving test—improves road safety and helps reduce the several thousand fatalities that occur in the state (of California) each year.”
Gov. Martinez has asked state lawmakers to strike New Mexico’s law allowing illegal immigrants to apply for drivers’ permits, and a number of legislators, on both sides of the aisle, are reportedly working to modify aspects of that law, if not rescinding it altogether.
And who knows? The 2013 Legislature could well adjourn without doing a single thing with the law as it now stands.
Last week the House Labor and Human Resources Committee tabled a bill that would have repealed the existing drivers’ license law under which illegal immigrants may seek permits. Nor, at this writing, is there a similar measure in the works over in the Senate.
On the other hand, the Legislature doesn’t adjourn until March.
As the nation’s first Hispanic woman to hold the office of governor in any of our states, Gov. Martinez has gotten a good deal of political mileage and national exposure out of her stance on illegal immigrants and drivers’ licenses.
But having tried twice to wipe it from the books, were she to fail at this session—even with the vague compromises about which she has hinted—it will probably be the end of the road for Martinez’s fight against the law.
As political “issues” go, it served her well in her 2010 campaign. It’s not apt to do her a lot of good in 2014.
Speaking of 2014, a newly-elected Doña Ana County state representative, Democrat Bill McCamley of Mesilla Park, has introduced one of the most novel pieces of legislation to be proposed at the Legislature in a long time.
For those among us (this reporter included) who yearn for a respite from the perpetual political campaigning that has come to mark our era, McCamley’s proposal promises the relief we seek by limiting state campaigns in New Mexico to just 90 days.
It would not go into effect until after the 2014 election. It has gotten next to no press attention.
One court or another would likely declare it unconstitutional on free speech grounds if it were to become law. And it almost certainly hasn’t a prayer of making it to the governor’s desk for her signature or veto.
Indeed, it too was tabled in committee last week.
But wouldn’t it have been nice?