Senate Judiciary Committee gives initial approval to bill to offer driver's licenses to immigrants

DENVER - Qualified undocumented immigrants would be able to get a driver’s license, register their car and purchase insurance under a bill given preliminary approval Wednesday night in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee voted 3-2 in favor of the bill.

Proponents say Senate Bill 251 is about roadway safety, while opponents say it’ll just be a magnet to draw more immigrants to Colorado illegally.

Esmeralda Dominguez supports the bill. She told 7NEWS that she is a U.S. citizen, but that her husband is undocumented.

“When I tried to put him on my insurance,” she said, “they told me, ‘if you drive, he’s covered, but the minute he drives, he’s an excluded driver. He’s not protected and neither is anybody else (riding) with him.’”

Senate Bill 251 would allow immigrants who pay taxes, can prove their identity, pass a driver’s test and pay a $41 fee to get a license.

“That means folks are more willing to take responsibility for their actions and stick around,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County. “When law enforcement shows up, (the drivers) can actually provide identity documents and take responsibility. That’s what this is about.”

But Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-El Paso County, told 7NEWS that S.B. 251 is bad policy.

He said what the United States needs to do is secure its borders and put laws into place that discourage people from entering the country illegally.

He said this bill will make it easier for people to enter the U.S. and blend in.

“All these laws that accommodate those who are here (illegally) are telling more people to come over and it makes it over-all more dysfunctional,” Lundberg said.

Lundberg questioned whether the federal government will now make more difficult for all Coloradans to board a plane because the state is issuing licenses to everyone.

Ulibarri said, “No, the license that undocumented drivers will be receiving will be clearly marked on front, ‘NOT REAL I.D. COMPLIANT,’ which means they can’t use it for voting, they can’t use it to board a plane, they can’t use it for public benefits. The one and only thing they can use it for is driving.”

Several other states allow driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally.

Several organizations spoke out in favor of the bill, including the Denver Police Department, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs of Colorado, ACLU, and Colorado Catholic Conference.

Sgt. Mike Farr of DPD said the department has investigated a number of accidents where people run. Driver's license issues, he said, could be one of the reasons why someone might leave the scene of a crash.

He said police would like to see that changed.

“If we can take some of those reasons away, perhaps it will have a positive effect on that,” he said.

New Mexico, Illinois and Maryland have passed bills.  Oregon and Minnesota are considering similar measures.

The Colorado bill now advances to the Committee on Appropriations.

Senate Bill 251: http://goo.gl/1dL9C

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