ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate on Monday passed a measure to allow illegal immigrants to keep, renew and apply for state driver's licenses.

The bill passed 29-18 largely along party lines with Republican objection. It would reverse a state law passed in 2009 to outlaw driver's licenses for illegal immigrants by 2015, a move made to comply with the federal Real ID Act.

Opponents said it made no sense to undo what the legislature accomplished in 2009.

"It's a way to try to skirt the rules. We backed into the rule two years ago because the federal government said we had to," said Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick and Carroll counties. "It's absurd. It's absolutely absurd."

Brinkley said the wrong way to address failings with federal immigration policy was to remove the state from compliance with the Real ID Act.

Proponents say the measure would improve public safety by requiring that everybody on the roads knew how to drive and proved so by taking a driver's test.

Both sides agreed that there were failings with the federal immigration system that allow too many illegal immigrants into the country and need to be addressed.

"We have a problem that is the result of a failed federal immigration policy," said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County, who ushered the bill on the floor. "But this is one thing we can do that will make Maryland drivers safer."

The bill now goes to the House. - Andy Brownfield