BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a burning issue in Beacon Hill for decades. But on Wednesday, a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses passed the House for the first time, 120 votes to 36.
This issue has been caught up for years in the backwash of political emotion surrounding our broken immigration system. Republicans and some Democrats have argued that a license is a privilege reserved for legal residents.
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But today, Democratic leaders pointed to the 16 other states that have passed similar bills and said law enforcement officials are telling them they need them to help enforce laws on road safety.
“Our job, our job of enforcing traffic is enhanced, made easier when the person driving presents a driver’s license,” said Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett), chairman of the Transportation Committee. “It will provide an additional level of public safety and law enforcement capability by providing driver’s licenses.”
The bill would require applicants to submit two documents, a valid, unexpired foreign passport or consular identification document and one of the following menu options: “an original or certified copy of a birth certificate ; a valid and unexpired foreign identity card a valid and unexpired foreign driver’s license; or a marriage certificate or divorce decree issued in Massachusetts.
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Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) opposed the move on the grounds that it would encourage more immigrants to come here without proper legal authorization. “We are now starting to lobby; “Hey, don’t worry about being undocumented, don’t worry about being here illegally, you can still come to Massachusetts, and not only can you get ID, but also a driver’s license” , did he declare.
And critics of the bill noted that while some police chiefs approved of the bill, others did not. Meanwhile, proponents have claimed that states with this law have seen a decrease in hit-and-run cases and uninsured drivers.
Governor Charlie Baker has expressed opposition to this in the past. If he vetoes the bill, it will take a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override his veto. Rep. Straus appeared to be anticipating a veto when he cited Baker’s past objections to vagueness about which identity verification applicants would be required to show.
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“The touchstone of the bill before you was candidly announced by the governor in conversations over the past two years,” Straus said.