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Md. Assembly Votes to End Issuance of Driver's Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

Sens. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), left, and Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) work as the General Assembly winds down its 90-day session. Lawmakers scrambled to end the practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Sens. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), left, and Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) work as the General Assembly winds down its 90-day session. Lawmakers scrambled to end the practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. (By James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)

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By John Wagner, Lisa Rein and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Maryland General Assembly last night passed a hard-fought compromise that would end the practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, capping a 90-day session in which lawmakers were greatly constrained by the state's financial challenges but passed numerous low-cost bills affecting residents' daily lives.

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With barely an hour remaining before its midnight adjournment, the House voted 76 to 60 for a bill that would reconcile different solutions by the House and Senate to the challenge Maryland faces in complying with the federal security law known as Real ID. The Senate, which initially passed a more conservative approach, quickly followed with a 29 to 16 vote in favor.

Under the compromise, motorists who cannot prove they are in the country legally would be ineligible for a Maryland license as of June 1. But those who previously received licenses by providing foreign documents that lacked a U.S. visa stamp could get a one-time driving permit. The permits, which could not be used for access to federal buildings or commercial airplanes, would expire in 2015.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) had said he probably would call a special session on the issue if it was not resolved last night.

That bill was one of dozens debated in recent days that will bring changes to the lives of Marylanders without straining a state budget undercut by sagging tax collections amid the economic downturn.

Lawmakers banned the distracting practice of text messaging while driving, authorized speed cameras in work zones and school zones, lengthened the time teen drivers must hold learning permits, extended unemployment insurance to part-time workers and set aside money to enable a freeze on tuition at public universities again this fall.

"It was definitely the session for making policy on the cheap," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who described the fiscal situation as "the big, wet blanket that fell over the entire city."

An almost $14 billion operating budget that won final approval yesterday freezes spending at most state agencies in the coming year and includes substantial cuts in road funding and other state aid to Maryland counties. A federal stimulus package passed midway through the legislative session allowed lawmakers to avoid deeper cuts and layoffs of state workers.

The session was also noteworthy for several bills with longer-term aims, including a measure passed yesterday that seeks to curb greenhouse gas emissions and several growth-management bills pushed by the governor. A separate measure proposed by O'Malley to assert greater authority over the state's future energy supply died Saturday night.

Lawmakers also passed legislation in response to several emerging events. Final approval was given yesterday to a bill that gives the state additional tools to help keep the Preakness Stakes in Maryland after the owner of the prominent horse race, Magna Entertainment, declared bankruptcy. And limitations were put on undercover investigations by law enforcement officials in response to revelations that the Maryland State Police had infiltrated peaceful groups during the previous governor's administration.

Del. Murray Levy (D-Charles) lamented that lawmakers would be returning to another projected budget shortfall in January. "There's a lot of bills that might have otherwise passed, that have real social impact, that failed simply because of their budgetary impact," he said.

Debate over final passage of the coming year's budget was dominated yesterday by Republican concerns about diverting $2 million from a public financing fund for gubernatorial candidates to help pay for new optical scan voting machines next year.

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