Getting the right license can be a real headache

February 24, 2019

As if there weren’t enough headaches, heartburn and other unpleasant symptoms in trying to renew your New Mexico driver’s license in recent years, an old friend of mine last week pointed me to yet another hassle courtesy of the state Motor Vehicle Division.

For those who haven’t paid attention, there are two types of licenses most of us are eligible for these days — a “Real ID” license, which is compliant with the federal Real ID Act and allows you to do things like board commercial airplanes and enter federal facilities; and a driver authorization card, which allows you to drive but can’t be used “for federal purposes.” The struggle to obtain either form of ID has prompted many harrowing tales of people, including longtime state residents, having to make multiple trips to the MVD just to renew a license.

Those wanting to get the Real ID card might be tempted to check the MVD’s Real ID information page (mvd.newmexico.gov/real-id-information.aspx) to find out exactly what documents you need for that version of the license. And for your convenience, on that page are handy links to allowable documents that satisfy requirements for proof of identification number, proof of identity and proof of New Mexico residency.

One problem when I used the site: All those links lead to one page that says “404 Not Found Code: NoSuchKey” and other techno garble.

The page doesn’t only discriminate against those wanting a Real ID license. The links for the required documents for the driver’s authorization card led to the same useless page.

For those who don’t get frustrated and throw their computers across the room in rage, at the very bottom of the page is a link that takes you to the actual statute listing the various requirements. But it’s probably wiser to skip the Real ID page altogether and go straight to the “How to get a New Mexico Driver License” page (mvd.newmexico.gov/nm-drivers-license-id.aspx), where — at least at this writing — the links all seem to work.

No, this webpage debacle isn’t the worst example of government incompetence out there. And it’s far from the worst horror story I’ve heard about frustrated New Mexicans trying to get a license renewed.

But it’s emblematic of the obstacles New Mexicans face caused by the way the MVD has implemented the driver’s license law passed in 2016. To its credit, the MVD in early December announced several changes made to simplify the ordeal of getting a driver’s authorization card. For instance, now a single document can be used to prove both identity and age, as long as it contains name and date of birth. Previously — for reasons that still escape me — two separate documents were required. And the agency expanded its list of acceptable documents to prove identity, age and New Mexico residency (though I’m pretty sure that my Three Stooges Fan Club membership card still isn’t acceptable documentation).

Those changes came about because of the goodness in the hearts of the MVD honchos. (Just kidding. It was part of a settlement last year of a lawsuit filed by former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and several civil rights groups.)

As a candidate for governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham promised to make it easier for people to get licenses or state identification cards.

“There is no question that the MVD has made the process of obtaining a Real ID-compliant license, and even a non-compliant driver’s license, confusing,” she wrote in an opinion piece. “MVD agents are not properly trained and, in many cases, have given applicants incorrect information. Other times, MVD staff have required documentation, such as a Social Security card or birth certificate, that isn’t required by law.”

This didn’t became a huge issue during the campaign. But I hope she follows through.

There are several bills in the current Legislature aimed at making it easier to renew a license. One, Senate Bill 278, sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Daniel Ivey-Soto, has progressed the furthest and quite possibly will have passed the Senate by the time you read this.

Let’s hope this passes and the governor signs it and keeps her word to better train MVD personnel to make the whole confusing process easier on folks.

And let’s hope the problems have passed by October, when I have to renew my license.

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