ANNAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee late Friday killed two closely watched bills that opponents have called discriminatory.
The panel batted down an effort to prohibit the Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. And it defeated a measure to invalidate same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
The same-sex marriage debate was brief, with co-sponsor Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, arguing that the bill was necessary to maintain Maryland’s sovereignty.
“We are the duly elected policy-making body of this state, not some city in New Mexico, not some judge in Massachusetts, not some mayor in San Francisco,” he said. “A failure to act here is allowing this policy-making decision to come in through the back door from other jurisdictions.”
San Francisco and some other jurisdictions have issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a Massachusetts court ruling called for equal treatment of alternative couples. And President Bush has supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
A hearing on the bill last week became heated, with charges of gay bashing.
The driver’s license legislation also generated some verbal heat.
Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, proposed the bill banning the MVA from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens. Before the decisive vote, he acknowledged the bill faced staunch opposition from immigration advocates, representatives with large immigrant populations and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
“I do know that the (House) Speaker has put pressure on several of the Democrats in the committee to vote against this measure,” McMillan said. “It doesn’t make sense to give an identity document to someone who is by definition undocumented.”
During the Feb. 18 committee hearing, McMillan and others linked the licensing of illegal foreigners to security threats, summoning memories of Sept. 11, 2001.
Proponents cited terrorism and convicted Washington, D.C., sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo, an illegal alien, as examples of national security resulting from undocumented immigrants. But they were also quick to refute accusations of xenophobia or anti-immigrant sentiment.
Delegate Anthony Brown, D-Prince George’s, voted against the measure and said the tie between illegal aliens and terrorism assumes a worst-case scenario.
Brown, Judiciary vice chairman, said a true solution to the issue has to be found and urged his colleagues to strike a balance of immigrant licensing policies.
“I don’t feel unlawful presence is equivalent to a security threat,” he said.
McMillan said the bill rewards legal immigrants and that his measure would complement federal laws making unlawful residence in the country a crime.
The bill also came in the wake of a new Virginia law requiring all immigrant driver’s license applicants to prove lawful U.S. residence, as well as a controversial opinion by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran that allowed immigration-related documents to be used as identification for a license.
“Under Maryland Vehicle Law,” Curran also wrote, “a person’s inability to establish lawful presence in the United States is not a basis for denying that person a driver’s license.”
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, was one of the licensing bill’s most vocal critics, calling it “anti-immigrant” and “anti-human.”
She also said approving the issue would have effectively ended the mission of the task force to study driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. -30 – CNS-3-5-04