Compromise Sought On Immigrant Driver’s Licences

Compromise sought on immigrant driver's licenses
Plan would allow renewal applications without proof of legal presence

By Julie Bykowicz
The Baltimore Sun (MD), April 13, 2009,0,1155806.story

State lawmakers are at work on a compromise on whether illegal immigrants with Maryland licenses can renew them — a signal that one of this year's trickiest legislative issues will be resolved before the session ends at midnight Monday.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, explained on the Senate floor that the new plan, which needs approval by the Senate and House of Delegates in the next few hours, would allow drivers to renew for a 'not federally compliant' license until June 1, 2015, without proving that they are legally in the United States.

All new driver's license applicants would need to document lawful presence before obtaining a Maryland driver's license, and lawmakers want that to begin happening next week by pushing for the legislation to be considered 'emergency.' Anyone who gets a 'not federally compliant' license over the next six years would not be able to use it to board airplanes or enter federal buildings.

The General Assembly is racing to pass a bill dealing with illegal immigrant drivers because the federal Real ID security act has an October deadline. If state law does not change, Maryland licenses could be rejected by federal officials, including at airports. Maryland is one of just four states that issue driver's licenses without requiring proof of a person's lawful U.S. status, which some said has made the state a magnet for illegal immigrants seeking government-backed credentials.

The chambers proposed vastly different proposals for complying with Real ID, and House and Senate leaders indicated last week that there would be no room for compromise. The House wanted already licensed drivers to be able to renew in perpetuity forever for a 'not federally compliant' license without documenting legal status. By contrast, the Senate overwhelmingly approved requiring such documentation for all new and renewing drivers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said Saturday that one of the chambers would have to accept the other's plan. But in informal talks that day, senators and delegates who have studied the licensing issue decided to seek a compromise. Frosh said the conference committee would essentially accept the House's plan, but with a 2015 sunset for the category of non-compliant licenses. From that point forward, all renewing drivers would have to provide documents showing they are in the United States legally.

Frosh discussed the plan on the Senate floor after Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, asked his colleagues to force the conference committee to reject any compromise that would include 'grandfathering' in illegal immigrants who are licensed drivers.

But Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican, said he was part of the informal Saturday talks and realized that, although he prefers the Senate's original plan, the House would reject it.

'If we hold fast to our position, we're not going to get a bill,' he told his colleagues. 'I'm positive of that.'

Miller interjected to tell senators that Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who wants Real ID legislation on his desk by the end of the day, will call a special session if the lawmakers continue their impasse.

The Senate rejected Brinkley's proposal to limit the conference committee, and Frosh will lead talks in the conference committee to get its compromise in writing and to the floor of each chamber.