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    Wednesday, September 27, 2023

    Conn. drive-only licenses now invalid in Florida under new law

    Nearly 61,000 Connecticut residents might be unable to drive in Florida due to a new immigration bill.

    Under SB 1718, out-of-state driver's licenses issued specifically to immigrants lacking permanent legal status — drive-only licenses — are are no longer accepted by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, according to its website. The recently signed legislation, which took effect July 1, instills multiple restrictions for immigrants regarding employment, health care, transportation and other sectors.

    Almost 61,000 Connecticut residents currently own a drive-only license a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles said in an email.

    "The Biden Border Crisis has wreaked havoc across the United States and has put Americans in danger," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a May 2023 release. "In Florida, we will not stand idly by while the federal government abandons its lawful duties to protect our country. The legislation I signed today gives Florida the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration laws in the country, fighting back against reckless federal government policies and ensuring the Florida taxpayers are not footing the bill for illegal immigration."

    According to CT News Junkie, at an unrelated event, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said drive-only license owners on Tuesday should be cautious with driving in Florida. He also said the new measure is capable of making "confusing hodgepodge" of driver's license policies.

    "I'd be very careful with my driving until we get this legally straightened out," Lamont said. "I don't trust what's going to happen there."

    Carolina Bortoletto, deputy digital director of United We Dream, a national immigrant advocacy group, and co-founder of CT Students for Dream, condemned the Florida policy.

    "The CT driver license bill allowed people like my own parents to drive safely to work, to the grocery store, to take me to school and more. Having a driver's license also removed some of the daily fear that my parents and our immigrant community feels about a traffic violation potentially leading to detention and family separation," Bortoletto said via email. "These policies benefit everyone in a community, not just immigrants, by promoting the safety and dignity of all people. That is what's so cruel about the SB 1718 bill in Florida. These attacks on immigrants make the day to day living of Florida families harder and seek to create division and fear amongst neighbors. A state should strive for the well-being of all its residents."

    In a statement, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives Matt Ritter (D) said, "Florida's new law targeting certain driver's licenses smells of their governor's ultra-rightwing strategy to get noticed in a crowded Republican presidential field. It is a policy based on fear instead of real life. Our driver-only licenses have been around for almost a decade and I'm not aware of any proposed changes by Connecticut Republicans or Democrats in all that time. It's been a non-issue here."

    In an emailed statement, CTGOP Chairman Ben Proto said, "When one remembers that every democrats from Ned Lamont to AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) spent time vacationing in the free state of Florida while their own constituents were under far-left lockdown, it makes you wonder if Connecticut Democrats are just as worried about their own vacation plans as they are their far-left, 'Sanctuary State' agenda. Connecticut Democrat elected officials should be more concerned about what's going on in Connecticut and how our state government is failing its residents."

    What is a drive-only license?

    The "drive-only" program is designed specifically for individuals who are 16 or older and are unable to establish a legal presence in the United States.

    Connecticut started the program in 2014 to offer driver's licenses to immigrants without legal status in the U.S. and to prevent them from driving unregistered and insured. In the first couple months of the program, nearly 40,000 people signed up to take the DMV written driver's test.

    Applicants are required to receive a learner's permit first and must submit a valid foreign passport or proof of residency and consular identification. Drive-only licenses cannot be used to vote nor for federal identification purposes. U.S. citizens and documented immigrants are also ineligible for the program.

    Drive-only licenses are referred to as "DO — Not for Federal Identification" on the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website.

    What happens if you drive in Florida with an invalid license?

    People are not allowed to drive on any highway or street in Florida without a valid driver's license.

    A law enforcement officer who stops a driver with an invalid license will issue a citation for a misdemeanor, according to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Florida Statutes state that a fine shall not exceed $500 for a misdemeanor of the second degree or a noncriminal violation, and a fine shall not exceed $1,000 for a misdemeanor of the first degree.

    What out-of-state licenses are also banned in Florida?

    Licenses in Delaware, Hawaii and Vermont indicating "Not for Federal Identification" or "Driving Privilege Only" are considered invalid by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. However, the list is subject to change periodically as states revise their license requirements, the website said.

    Which states also offer driver's licenses to unauthorized immigrants?

    Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation allowing immigrants lacking permanent legal status to own driver's licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of March 2023. Applicants in these states can get a license if they submit certain documents, like a foreign birth certificate, foreign passport or proof of current state residency.

    What else does Florida's SB 1718 entail?

    SB 1718, signed by DeSantis in May, also bans immigrants without a lawful presence in the U.S. from getting a driver's license.

    To be eligible for county and municipal funding, people and organizations that issue identification documents to residents must have proof of their legal residency. Hospitals that accept Medicaid are also required to ask patients about their immigration status and citizenship. The bill also strengthens employment requirements and enacts penalties on employers who knowingly hire immigrants lacking permanent legal status, a release summarizing the bill states.

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