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House votes to allow residents living illegally in state to apply for driver's licenses

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published May 23. 2013 1:00PM   Updated May 24. 2013 12:21AM

Hartford — A bill that would allow Connecticut residents regardless of their immigration status to obtain a driver's license passed the House 74-55 Thursday morning after an all-night debate.

The debate raged on from 10 p.m. Wednesday until 5:48 a.m. Thursday. All Republicans who were present voted against the bill, along with nine Democrats, including Rep. Edward Jutila, D-East Lyme, and Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton. Twenty-one House members were absent.

"There is a stark contrast here," said Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, Thursday morning in a press release. "There are 54,000 untrained, unlicensed, and uninsured drivers on our roads. We believe we should deal with this reality now, while those opposed simply want another study."

The bill would allow about 54,000 people living in Connecticut illegally to obtain licenses.

During the House session, many Republicans said they disapproved of the way the bill was put forth. More than 2,000 people attended a public hearing in March in New Haven for the original driver's license bill. But the bill died in the Transportation Committee, in part because of Republican opposition and the committee's desire to pass bills in a bipartisan manner.

Democrats then proposed a "strip all" amendment and attached the amendment to a somewhat related bill on motor vehicle statutes.

Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, who voted against the bill, said he had wanted to be a part of the bill process.

"I say this with respect. I am angry at that, I wanted to be a part of this process, I wanted to learn more about this. I wanted to do justice by the people," Cafero said.

Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, a ranking member on the Transportation Committee, also said he disapproved of the process, which left out that committee.

Proponents of the bill say that allowing previously unlicensed people to have driver's licenses will encourage them to register their vehicles and obtain car insurance, which could make the roads safer.

New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said last month that he supports the bill.

"It will make us safer, and it will grow our economy because it accepts and it affirms the basic, well-proven, common sense principle that our state will grow when we ensure that no honest, hardworking law-abiding resident of our state is ever forced to live in the shadows of our society," Finizio said.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the bill would cost the Department of Motor Vehicles $1.3 million in fiscal year 2015 and up to $1.4 million by fiscal year 2018.

There are initial revenues associated with the bill because a new influx of people would be paying fees to obtain a license and register their vehicles. Revenue estimates start at $1.5 million in fiscal year 2015 and trickle down to $583,200 by fiscal year 2018, as fewer people would be applying for the first time.

Scribner said there is uncertainty regarding how many people are living as illegal immigrants in Connecticut, and therefore, it is difficult to assess the level of impact.

The DVM has already had to eliminate some services at branch offices because it didn't have enough resources, Scribner said.

If the bill were to pass in the Senate and be signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a person without citizenship or legal residency could obtain a driver's license by providing a primary proof of identity such as "a valid foreign passport issued by the applicant's country of citizenship that is unexpired or expired for less than three years," or "a valid, unexpired consular identification document issued by the applicant's country of citizenship," or "a consular report of an applicant's birth of a foreign country."

The applicant would also need a secondary proof of identity, such as "a valid, unexpired motor vehicle operator's license, with security features, issued by another state or country."

The person would also have to prove residency by providing documents such as a bill from a bank or utility company, a pre-printed pay stub or a property tax bill.

Sharkey said the purpose of driver's licenses is to create minimum qualifications and skill standards to make everyone safer.

"We are talking about people who contribute to our communities and our economy every day," Sharkey said. "They are our neighbors, our fellow taxpayers and our friends."

j.somers@theday.com

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