Assembly Races to Hammer Out Bills

Md. Chambers Are At Odds on Licenses

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Maryland House and Senate passed conflicting proposals yesterday to curtail the state's practice of issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, setting a difficult course for compromise in the remaining two weeks of the legislative session.

The action came as lawmakers labored into the night to meet a key deadline on dozens of bills. Legislation giving judges more authority to take firearms from people accused of domestic violence won Senate approval. And the Senate advanced a bill to partially return to state regulation of Maryland's energy supply -- although that measure's ultimate fate is far from certain.

After impassioned debate, the House voted 77 to 60 in favor of a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants holding driver's licenses to keep them but shut the door to new applicants June 1. Maryland is one of four states, and the only one east of the Colorado Rockies, that grants driving privileges to illegal immigrants.

Hours later, the Senate voted 36 to 11 for more conservative legislation that would require all license applicants to verify their legal presence in the country to receive a license.

Both bills would comply with a federal security law known as Real ID, which calls on states to issue a nationally recognizable, secure driver's license. Critics of the House approach said it would allow the fraud that has plagued the system to continue, keeping Maryland a magnet for immigrants from other states who seek licenses.

"We're creating permanent amnesty for people who came here uninvited," said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County).

But supporters of the House bill said that denying licenses to those who have them would compromise driving safety because undocumented immigrants would continue to drive with neither license nor insurance.

"You want to call it amnesty? Let's call it amnesty," said Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George's). "It means that you have a heart. What do you think is going to happen to [the immigrants] when they can't take their kids to school? . . . I respectfully ask you to let them keep their licenses."

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) suggested his colleagues had "become caught up in fear" over the politics of immigration.

Bills that did not pass at least one chamber by the end of yesterday's floor sessions will be subject to additional procedural hurdles in the remaining weeks of the 90-day legislative session.

Votes in the Senate all but assured that gun restrictions on domestic abuse suspects, a top priority for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), will become law this year.

Under one of the bills, approved 31 to 16, a judge could order abuse suspects to give up their guns when served with a seven-day temporary protective order if they had threatened violence or threatened to use a gun. The other bill, approved by the same margin, would require judges to confiscate guns from anyone issued a more serious final protective order.

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