NJ weighs bill to let those without documents get licenses

AP News
December 09, 2019 - 2:47 pm
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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers advanced  legislation Monday to permit immigrants who cannot prove they're in the country legally to obtain driver's licenses.

The Democrat-led Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the bill in a packed committee room in the statehouse annex building. Many in attendance supported the measure, including a handful of people wearing green and yellow T-shirts that said, "Don't let these bills die in committee."

Thirteen states, including Delaware and New York, and the District of Columbia permit immigrants without legal status to obtain driver's licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

A 2018 study from the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective estimated that about 466,000 residents without documentation would be of driving age in New Jersey. 

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy along with Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney have said they back the measure. 

The legislation would create a two-tiered driver's license system. One license would conform to federal REAL ID requirements that include proof of legal residency. Another license would permit people without a legal status to obtain a license. 

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Panel after panel of witnesses supported the bill, arguing the measure could increase safety since many immigrants without legal documentation already drive without licenses and insurance. They also made emotional pleas, arguing that obtaining a license would help people work and provide for their loved ones. 

"By providing access to driver's licenses, New Jersey shows a monumental step towards keeping families together," said Tatiana Rodrguez, a volunteer with the progressive-leaning group Make the Road New Jersey.

Among the supporters was Motor Vehicles Commissioner Sue Fulton, who cited a study by AAA that indicated unlicensed drivers were more likely to flee the scene of an accident than those with licenses. 

"In my view our roads are safer when our drivers are trained, tested licensed and insured," Fulton said. 

Opponents worry the measure rewards people for breaking the law and could lead to voter fraud because voter registration occurs when obtaining a license. 

"So you're accommodating people who broke the law," Republican Assemblyman Erik Peterson, who voted against the legislation, said in an opening round of question to Fulton. 

Fulton responded that the bill was about increasing safety. 

Advocates for the bill have pushed for years for the measure, but legislative leaders waited until after November's election to begin advancing the legislation.

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