Thursday, April 4, 2013

One Small Card, One BIG Policy Change

Yesterday was another action packed day at the Nevada Legislature. This time, the Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony on SB 303. This bill provides for a driver's privilege card (or limited driver's license) for undocumented immigrants, and it's sponsored by Senate leadership from both parties. In addition to its hearing in Carson City, SB 303 also had satellite testimony from Las Vegas.

And while immigrant rights activists packed the hearing rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas, SB 303 also received some surprising support. For one, the bill is inspired by a program that's already happening next door. And no, I'm not talking about California (though the California Legislature is now considering its own bill).

“Denying driving privilege to the undocumented population jeopardizes safety and raises insurance rates for everyone,” [Senator Ruben] Kihuen [D-Las Vegas] told the committee. [...]

The driver’s privilege card will be available to people who cannot produce all of the documentation needed for a Nevada driver’s license. It would allow the holder to legally drive in the state but could not be used as an official identification or to apply for federal or state benefits. The application fee would be $22, the same as for a driver’s license, but the driver’s privilege card would have to be renewed annually instead of every four years like a traditional license.

“SB 303 will bring in new revenue at a time when we desperately need it,” Kihuen said. “There are over 100,000 undocumented people in Nevada who could benefit form this proposed bill. It could mean millions of dollars in stimulus to our economy. They will purchase cars, they will purchase insurance and they will drive to stores, take trips and more easily find a job.” [...]

The Nevada bill is modeled after similar legislation in Utah, and two Utah state senators also testified. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the law had contributed to Utah’s low rate of uninsured drivers and had improved road safety as more drivers are tested and insured.

“The angst from right (when we passed the bill) was that Utah would be a magnet, a mecca, a gateway for a subsequent influx of undocumented individuals because we provided this privilege. The data doesn’t support that,” Bramble said, pointing out that after peaking around 43,000 driver’s privilege cards, the number in Utah has since dropped below 40,000.

Bramble said there was concern in Utah of criminals applying for the card. Of 40,000 applicants in Utah, two were found to have criminal records, he said. Utah eventually added a fingerprinting and background check provision to its law, something Denis has resisted under the argument that it would discourage participation and the undermine the intent of the law.

“You must concede that they have violated immigration laws,” Bramble said of some of the potential applicants. “Beyond that though, it appears from our experience in Utah that folks who come forward to apply for this are not the criminal element, they are not the folks law enforcement is seeking out. … Pass it or not, they are on our roads.”

Indeed, Utah has been running this program since 2005. And despite a "tea party" fueled campaign to repeal the law last year (which failed), the program is working there. And in fact, the number of driver's privilege cards issues actually dropped last year.

It's also helped make roads safer there. And earlier this year, a California DMV report stated its roads will likely be safer Keith more insured drivers, which is what will happen once California starts issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Behind all the controversy over immigration reform, this is really a simple matter of public safety.

So does this mean SB 303 will sail through Carson City? We'll see. As mentioned earlier, Senate leaders in both parties are backing the bill. However in the Assembly, Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno) has been playing nefarious political games with the bill by trying to tie it to the otherwise unrelated SB 63 electronic poll book bill that Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) is pushing. There are probably still more than enough Democratic votes to pass SB 303 in the Assembly regardless, but we don't know yet what exactly Governor Brian Sandoval (R) plans to do with it (though he's seemingly been warming up to it).

It's been a long journey here, but Nevada may finally soon begin issuing driver's privilege cards alongside Utah, New Mexico, and Washington (State). Undocumented immigrants can finally be treated a little less "second class". And Nevada raids can be safer with fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers.

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