There’s no longer cause for concern about your NM driver’s license

A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Heath Haussamen /

A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

COMMENTARY: After years of debate, and a fair amount of political posturing, the Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation (HB 99) into law that puts New Mexico on the path toward being compliant with the Federal Real ID Act.

Earlier this month, I hosted one of what will be a series of town halls aimed at informing New Mexicans on what REAL ID will mean to them when it comes time to get or renew their driver’s licenses.

Your current New Mexico license is (most likely) good for federal purposes until 2020

One of the major elements of the Real ID Act is that in order for state driver’s licenses to be used for federal purposes — think getting on an airplane, or onto a military base or into a federal courthouse — states must adopt and implement certain security and eligibility standards.

Jacob Candelaria

Courtesy photo

Jacob Candelaria

Many states have bucked these requirements by passing legislation to never become REAL ID compliant, in part because the federal government’s mandates are un-funded.

Though the REAL ID Act passed into law in 2005, the federal government has delayed the deadline for compliance several times. As long as New Mexico continues to show progress toward compliance with the requirements of REAL ID, the state is expected to get one-year waivers until October 2020.

With passage of HB 99, New Mexico has already received the first of these waivers, and fully expects them to be issued annually until the 2020 deadline. That means current New Mexico driver’s licenses and identification cards can be used to enter federal facilities and board domestic flights until Oct. 1, 2020.

What happens in 2020?

All state driver’s licenses will have to meet federal requirements by Oct. 1, 2020 in order for them to be valid for federal purposes. What does this mean to you? Well, here’s what we know.

Under HB 99, as amended by the state Senate, citizens will have the option of obtaining a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or a Driving Authorization Card (DAC). The Senate felt strongly that providing citizens this option was important because many people do not wish to participate in federal REAL ID as a matter of conscience, or out of concerns for their personal privacy.


Undocumented persons will not be eligible to apply for or receive a REAL ID-compliant license. They may only be issued a DAC. Undocumented persons who are applying for a DAC for the first time, and who do not currently have a New Mexico issued driver’s license, will be required to be fingerprinted. Our state law provides that the fingerprints will only be used to check for outstanding warrants or aliases.

A DAC will be valid to drive, and for non-federal identification purposes. It will not, however, be valid for domestic air travel or other federal purposes. So, in order to use your state issued driver’s credential for air travel or to access federal buildings after October 2020, you will have to get a REAL ID-compliant license.

To obtain a REAL ID license, you will have to provide additional documentation to prove your citizenship and identity. These may include a current passport, a Social Security card, a certified birth certificate, or other documents that the state may approve. The state MVD has said that Real ID compliant licenses will cost the same as a current driver’s license.

HB 99 also requires the state to accept tribal documents as proof of identity and citizenship, if applicable, for Indian tribe, pueblo and nation members.

Timetable for implementation

New Mexico will begin issuing REAL ID licenses and DACs later this year.

If your driver’s license expires before Oct. 1, 2020, just renew your driver’s license on your normal renewal cycle — and apply for either a Real ID license or a DAC. If your driver’s license expires after Oct. 1, 2020, you will have the opportunity to switch to a REAL ID license before Oct. 1, 2020, provided that you qualify. The cost for obtaining that REAL ID license under this scenario will be pro-rated.

You may, however, also elect to keep your current New Mexico license if it expires after the October 2020 deadline, but it will no longer be valid for federal purposes. There is no requirement that anyone turn in his or her license or ID. So, after Oct. 1, 2020, there will be three New Mexico-issued driving documents in the wallets of New Mexicans: 1) REAL ID licenses, 2) DACs and 3) the ones we currently have, which are referred to as legacy licenses.

In all, the most important take-away is that there is no longer any cause for concern about the validity of your New Mexico driver’s license. Also, by preserving the ability of all qualified persons to obtain a driver’s credential and to accept the responsibilities that entails, HB 99, as amended, promotes public safety.

I hope the passage of HB 99 signals a new period of bi-partisan cooperation in New Mexico. While national politics are becoming more divisive and theatric, I look forward to working with members of both parties to continue tackling the issues that New Mexicans care about.

Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, represents the Albuquerque-area District 26 in the New Mexico Senate.

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