Mariano pushing driver’s license bill

Measure would allow undocumented to obtain license to drive

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

HOUSE SPEAKER Ron Mariano intends next week to bring to the floor of the House a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, potentially setting up an election year vote on a divisive issue that has been pushed for years by immigrant advocates.

House leaders said Thursday they believe the time has come to pass the bill that supporters argue would improve public safety by ensuring that everyone driving on Massachusetts roads has the proper training and insurance.

“There just seems to be a growing consensus, and frankly the fact that so many states around the country have done this – New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey – it’s not as if we’d stand out,” said Rep. William Straus, the House chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The Committee on Transportation began polling its members Thursday evening on a redrafted version of the bill, known as the Work and Family Mobility Act (H 3456 / S 2289), and gave committee members until 3 p.m. on Friday to vote whether to recommend it.

A spokeswoman for Mariano said the speaker hopes to call for a vote on the bill next week, though a day for that debate has not yet been scheduled. The Senate would also have to pass the bill before July 31, and supporters would have to overcome past objections raised by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The bill would allow anyone who does not provide proof of lawful presence, including those who are ineligible for a Social Security number, to obtain a valid Massachusetts driver’s license if they can provide sufficient alternative documentation confirming their identity, date of birth, and residency in the state.

“The key thing here is we have one of the strictest public safety requirements of any state in the country that has done this, in that an applicant has to show either valid current passport or what’s called a consular ID, which is passport light,” Straus said.

The bill would require applicants to provide the registrar with at least two documents, one of which must be either a valid unexpired foreign passport or a valid unexpired Consular Identification document. The other document could be either an unexpired driver’s license from any other United States state or territory, an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, a valid unexpired foreign national identification card, a valid unexpired foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate or divorce decree issued in Massachusetts.

At least one document must contain a photograph, and one must show an applicant’s date of birth. Licenses would not become available to undocumented residents until July 1, 2023.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The reform, however, has frequently stalled on Beacon Hill despite growing support among lawmakers in both the House and Senate, where a majority of legislators have cosponsored bills in the past.

The Transportation Committee last session reported out a similar bill favorably to the Senate, but that legislation never surfaced for a vote. Senate President Karen Spilka supports the measure.

“It’s our turn,” Straus said.

Straus said he believes the documentation required of applicants in the committee bill “answers a lot of the public safety concerns that we’ve heard over the years about how you really know who it is.”

“It’s really a public safety bill in the sense that we always need to guarantee that the people who we give licenses to or who are driving meet public safety standards and going forward enduring driver training, supervision, and insurance isn’t connected to US immigration policy,” Straus said.

“We don’t need to be a branch of immigration control. We need to provide for safe roads,” Straus said.

Mariano spokesperson Ana Vivas said that the speaker has been mindful before bringing the bill to the floor that the House has enough votes to override a potential veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, though she would not say Thursday whether the Quincy Democrat was confident he had crossed that threshold.

Straus said “passage looks pretty good,” but he too would not say whether he thought there was a veto-proof majority in the House.

Baker has in the past said he opposed the idea of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“Governor Baker supports existing laws in Massachusetts, enacted on a bipartisan basis, that ensure Massachusetts’ compliance with federal REAL ID requirements and enable those who demonstrate lawful presence in the United States to obtain a license,” spokesman Terry MacCormack said in statement Thursday night.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Straus said he wasn’t convinced that if this bill gets to Baker’s desk the Republican governor can’t be persuaded to sign it.

“I don’t agree with those who say he’s guaranteed to veto it. When he sees the public safety protections here and is informed on how this helps safety, we’re going to be advocating that he should sign the bill,” Straus said.