It’s Baker’s Move As License Bill Reaches His Desk

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Will Gov. Charlie Baker veto legislation allowing immigrants without legal status to acquire Massachusetts driver's licenses? We'll know in the next 10 days.

The House and Senate on Thursday each put their final stamp on the bill, approving a compromise version with one last display of veto-proof majorities and placing it on Baker's desk after years of advocacy from immigration reform backers.

Baker, who has long voiced concerns about the proposal, will get 10 days to decide whether to sign the measure into law, return it with amendments or reject it outright. That could be a formality at this point because top Democrats are poised to have more than enough votes to muscle through the measure as they drafted it.

If approved, the bill (H 4805) would allow Massachusetts residents regardless of legal status to acquire a standard driver's license starting July 1, 2023, striking a section of state law that renders undocumented immigrants ineligible to get licensed.

Applicants would still need to provide proof of their identity, date of birth and residency in Massachusetts.

The legislation requires any Bay Stater without legal status in the United States seeking a driver's license to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with either a valid, unexpired foreign passport or a valid, unexpired consular identification document, plus one of five other documents: a valid, unexpired driver's license from another U.S. 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 from any U.S. state or territory.

Transportation Committee Co-chair Rep. William Straus on Thursday described the compromise version to his colleagues as "very much the bill you approved earlier this year."

"The public safety standard that we enunciated as a body in February, which was inspired by the remarks and the position taken by the governor, is intact in this bill," Straus said during the House's session. "That public safety standard is the touchstone for this bill."

Both branches approved the underlying bills with veto-proof majorities despite unanimous Republican opposition, then achieved similar margins in the final votes on Thursday.

The House accepted the conference report 118-36 and later enacted it 117-36, while the Senate accepted the report with a 32-8 vote before enacting it on a voice vote, all well above the two-thirds majority legislative leaders need to override a veto.

Baker, a Republican, said earlier this month he is concerned the bill would not do enough to ensure that immigrants who cannot prove lawful presence do not unlawfully register to vote. Some non-citizens such as green card holders can already acquire driver's licenses but remain ineligible to vote.

"Green card holders are required to explicitly demonstrate lawful presence, OK? We're talking about a situation now where, under the current statute as I understand it, all the rules associated with determining lawful presence are going to go away. That's a problem," Baker said on May 5. "It basically means, in some respects, the Registry is going to be flying blind with respect to what it issues when it issues these licenses. And it puts tremendous pressure on cities and towns to do the cleanup on the back end."

Written by Chris Lisinski, State House News Service

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