Immigrant License Bill Clears Committee

BOSTON (State House News Service) — To overcome a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, supporters of legislation that would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to receive standard driver's licenses would need to amass two thirds majority support for their bill in both branches.

Last week, supporters cleared that threshold at the committee level in the first test of the bill's strength.

After Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Boncore's staff declined to release how his committee's members voted on the bill, or even the total vote, the House chairman, Rep. William Straus, released both the total and the breakdown to the News Service, following a request for the information.

The committee approved the bill (S 2061) on a 14-4 vote, with all four votes against the bill coming from Republican lawmakers - Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, and Reps. Steven Howitt of Seekonk, Norman Orrall of Lakeville and David DeCoste of Norwell.

Mayor Walsh Supports Undocumented Immigrant Driver's License Bill - Thumbnail Image

Mayor Walsh Supports Undocumented Immigrant Driver's License Bill

Reps. Adrian Madaro of East Boston, Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Joseph McGonagle of Everett, Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, Daniel Donahue of Worcester, Peter Capano of Lynn, and Dan Ryan of Charlestown voted for the bill.

Senators who voted for the bill were Sens. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, Will Brownsberger of Belmont, Harriette Chandler of Worcester, Cynthia Friedman of Arlington, Diana DiZoglio of Methuen and the committee's co-chairman Sen. Boncore of Winthrop, where House Speaker Robert DeLeo also lives.

Two members opted against casting a vote for or against the bill -- Straus of Mattapoisett and Rep. Paul Tucker, the retired police chief of Salem.

The bill strikes a portion of state law that says "no license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have a lawful presence in the United States" and states that people who are unable to prove lawful presence, or who are ineligible for a social security number, may apply for a license if they meet all other licensure qualifications and provide satisfactory proof of their identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.

"The minute the bill was released favorably we started hearing directly from colleagues who are really supportive and happy that the bill was moving," said Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville), who co-sponsored the House bill with Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield. "There is support. We're continuing to build support."

The bill was reported to the Senate, where Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn is its lead sponsor and Senate President Karen Spilka has outlined her support.

Barber said the bill's supporters worked with police chiefs on its language governing documentation requirements, an area of concern for Baker, who opposes the bill.

"Undocumented people actually have a lot of documents," she said. "They're just not legal permanent residents of the United States, but to be in this country they actually have typically a lot of documents so there are things they can provide."

The committee bill requires two forms of identification, including at least one with a photograph and one with a date-of-birth.

One form of identification that applicants would be required to provide would be either a valid foreign passport or a consular identification document.

The second form of ID could be any of the following: a valid driver's license from another state or territory, a Massachusetts identification card, an original birth certificate or a valid employment authorization document issued by U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The list of documents in the bill resembles the lists in place in other states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, Barber said, and contrasts with language in previous versions of the bill that would have let the Registry of Motor Vehicles make documentation determinations.

"I've said for many years that I think it's really hard to build the kind of safeguards into that kind of process that would create the kind of security that would be hard to live up to some of the federal and state standards with respect to security and identification," Baker said last week. "And for those reasons, I don't support that legislation."

Tran also raised doubts about whether someone who is not in the country lawfully can prove their identity. "I don't support The concept of drivers licenses for Undocumented workers. There is no way to document and verify someone who Falls under this category. That being the case how can it be proven and controlled to decide who will be able to get a drivers license under this new law," Tran wrote in an email to the News Service.

One representative who supports the bill said he believes the House will vote this session on either the Safe Communities Act, which addresses cooperation of local law enforcement with federal immigration officials, or the undocumented immigrants driver's license bill, speculating that the licensing bill may be the one to emerge for a vote this year because it has momentum.

The co-chairs of the Driving Families Forward campaign issued a statement after last week's vote.

"We in the immigrant and labor communities are grateful for this victory, and for the progress we have made in moving toward finally achieving this right," said Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, and Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center. "We've come closer to this goal then we have ever been before in Massachusetts. Our sincere hope is that together, we - elected officials, labor, and impacted communities - will continue to negotiate the necessary modifications that will benefit the most affected immigrants."

While floor votes on the bill may not break down as strictly on party lines as the committee vote, Democrats hold super-majorities in both branches, with 125 seats in the House and 34 in the Senate.

"Most of these folks are people who have lived here for a really long time," Barber said. "They're members of our community. They need to drive to either get to work, take their kid to a doctor. They probably are driving anyway and we'd rather have people have insurance, have passed a driver's test, pass a vision test and actually have a license when they get pulled over, than have them driving and not be insured."

By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service

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