Hartford — The Senate early Thursday morning passed a bill, 19-16, that would allow residents living illegally in Connecticut to apply for driver’s licenses. The House passed the bill by a 74-55 vote last week, and it now moves to the governor for his signature.
“I am hoping that tonight, we can lay out the case that this is a common sense, public safety oriented bill, not only for those who seek the license but for all who use the roads,” Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said.
Democrats said House Bill 6495 would make everyone on the roads safer and help police officers identify more people involved in motor vehicle issues, while Republicans said there is strong opposition to the bill for fear of issues ranging from a potential increase in voter fraud to felons from other states moving to Connecticut in order to obtain drivers’ licenses.
State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he could not support the bill because it was unfair to people who came to the country legally.
“As much as it is a heart-wrenching story” that young people were brought into this country illegally want the American dream, the fundamental issue is fairness, he said.
Maynard also said a driver’s license would help police officers identify people they pull over.
“We have the difficulty right now of people being pulled over for minor traffic infractions with no way for the police officer to identify them, and it ties up officials unnecessarily,” Maynard said. “Law enforcement is eager to have this in place.”
Maynard said a handful of other states have passed similar legislation, including Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Utah and Washington. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has reviewed the bill, and a task force will be assigned to the implementation of the bill, Maynard said.
The bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.
If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the bill, a person without 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.”
The applicant also would need a secondary proof of identity, such as a valid driver’s license from another state or country.
The person also would have to prove residency with documents such as a bill from a bank or utility company, a pre-printed pay stub or a property tax bill.
The bill would not allow someone who has committed a felony in Connecticut to obtain a driver’s license.
Kissel unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the bill that would have required a national criminal and history check for felonies committed in other states. The purpose was to discourage felons from other states from coming to Connecticut for a driver’s license. But Maynard said most immigrants without documentation who commit felonies are deported, so the amendment would not have had much affect.
State Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Windsor, said he supported the bill because it was important for creating a safer driving environment. New applicants for driver’s licenses would need to pass a knowledge test, he said.
“And what happens when you pass that test and get that license, well, it is logical to assume you will be a safer driver,” LeBeau said. “And it has been shown in other states that the number of accidents have gone down significantly, which is why we have the driver test in the first place.”
Proponents of the bill also expect it to encourage those who obtain driver’s licenses to register their vehicles and obtain car insurance.
There are about 50,000 people living illegally in Connecticut who are uninsured and who cost insured drivers about $20 million a year in uninsured motorist insurance premiums, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said in a press release. Currently, towns lose millions of dollars because they can’t collect property tax on unregistered vehicles, he said.