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Hartford - New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, spoke at the state Capitol Monday in favor of allowing people who had illegally immigrated to the U.S. or were in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses.
They were among mayors, legislators, faith leaders and union members supporting a bill that failed in committee but will likely be revived as an amendment on the Senate floor.
The amendment, if similar to the failed bill, would permit someone, no matter their citizenship or immigration status, to obtain a motor vehicle operator's license, commercial driver's license or motor vehicle registration. To register a vehicle in Connecticut, a person must have car insurance, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. To have car insurance a person needs to have a driver's license for the insurance company to check the person's driving history, said Jim Perras, government relations liaison for the state Insurance Department.
Advocates said the provision would allow the state and municipalities to collect more revenue. The state would collect revenue from the registration fee, $80 for a passenger vehicle for example, and municipalities would collect property taxes from newly registered vehicles. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had proposed eliminating much of the vehicle property tax, but the legislature pushed the possibility of any type of elimination back to 2018.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said the proposal was about "enlightened self-interest."
"This is about mayors that have to balance budgets, and a governor that has to balance budgets and legislators who have to balance budgets," Finch said. … "Most importantly to me more vehicles will pay property taxes."
Advocates also said the driver's license would enable undocumented people to come forward and report crimes and participate in the community and school system.
"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.
Washington state and New Mexico have similar programs, and Illinois and Maryland recently adopted programs.
"What we find is that honest, hard-working, law-abiding people are now able to feel more comfortable taking advantage of this process," Finizio said. "They are more apt to report crimes, they will pay insurance (and) they will pay taxes."
Maynard said the bill didn't make it out of the Transportation Committee because some ranking Republican members opposed it. The committee traditionally works in a bipartisan way, he said, not pushing through legislation with strong opposition from one of the two parties.
"For some folks, they have an idea in their mind about who it is we are trying to assist, and they have a notion that folks have somehow come here illegally and shouldn't be enjoying any of the rights or privileges," Maynard said.
A person might have initially immigrated to the country illegally or come temporarily and overstayed their time, he said.
"These folks are caught, admittedly perhaps by their own mistakes early on in their presence here, but now have become part of this country, and to keep them at bay just to make some hard-nosed statement about their original immigration status seems punitive at the extreme and not particularly helpful to the rest of us who have to use the road with them," Maynard said.
State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the bill has strong support in both chambers of the General Assembly. The governor also supports the bill, said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
Finizio said he has seen the benefits of a related program in New London.
At the start of Finizio's term in 2011 he issued an order directing city police not to inquire about immigration status if a person called about a crime or needed assistance, as long as the investigation was not part of a federal investigation.
He said this practice has increased the number of immigrants willing to contact the city government.
Having more people obtain driver's licenses would also increase the number of people who would be formally trained how to drive, advocates said.
The more people who chose to get insurance with their driver's license could also reduce hit-and-run car accidents and lower costs for insured drivers, Looney said.
Armondo Morales of New Haven said he and his wife are small-business owners, and when they got into an accident the driver fled and the vehicle was not registered. Morales and his wife were stuck with the medical bills and a totaled car, and their business suffered, he said.
If more people had driver's licenses and were insured, they might handle the car accident in a normal manner as opposed to fleeing, Looney said.
For those who might be opposed to the bill, Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said that the license would only be for driving, it would not allow anyone to vote in elections.
To obtain the license the person would need to provide identification from their own country, such as a passport from the country they emigrated from, and a utility bill, Candelaria said.
When asked whether people might be hesitant to have their information recorded on such a driver's license, union member Ciro Gutierrez said people are always afraid of deportation when they live in this country without documentation. But he added that they wouldn't be any more afraid with the driver's license.