Measure seeks more offices for migrants' driver's licenses

A sign on the door of the Drivers license office in the Statre building on 6th Strret in Grand Junction.SB 13-251.

The Division of Motor Vehicles would increase the number of sites where temporary and illegal residents can go to get a valid driver's license under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Wednesday.

Under current law, there already are three DMV offices in Colorado where such people can get licenses: Grand Junction, Lakewood and Colorado Springs. To do so, applicants must first provide proof of their names, identity, date of birth and residency in the state.

The measure, SB139, would add five more offices around the state. Though it hasn't yet been determined exactly where, additional offices could be located in Montrose and Glenwood Springs.

The bill builds off of a 2013 law that is modeled after other states, including Utah, which approved the law in 2005. Since its passage, Colorado has issued more than 138,000 such licenses, with about 46,000 more expected over the next two years.

"This actually is an already existing program, and we're not the only state that implements this program or provides these kinds of documentation to undocumented residents," said Rep. Rochelle Galindo, a Greeley Democrat who introduced the bill with Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. "But we are one of the only states that have actually rolled this program back, causing lots of mayhem with people who want to apply. We're just trying to ensure they have access."

According to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states and the District of Columbia offer similar driver's license programs for undocumented residents.

Singer said the program's purpose is to maintain safety on the road by encouraging temporary or illegal residents to learn the rules of the road, and get insurance in case they are in accidents.

"If you actually go back and look at the states that have put this in place, whether you look at Democratic California or Republican Utah, you see more insured drivers on the road, you see less hit-and-run accidents," Singer said. "That is safety. You couldn't get more onto the issue of safety than with this bill."

Several Republican lawmakers didn't care for the measure not so much because of its provisions, but with the underlying program.

"This extends an embrace to those who are unlawfully present in the United States," said Rep. Mark Baisley, R-Roxborough Park. "If that means anything, then we should not officially give them documentation that is in conflict with that status of unlawfully present. This gets us to chaos. Let's not acknowledge and accept that they're going to continue to reside in the United States unlawfully."

Other Republicans attacked the measure for its financial cost.

"We're hiring 21.6 FTE, we're spending almost $2 million extra," said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. "And what's to say when these illegals come in, that they get their driver's license ... then they go to the clerk and recorder's office and they go, 'Now I want to register to vote.' They could easily go somewhere and get registered to vote. It's all a bunch of BS."

Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, who sponsored the original law, said the program was and continues to be self sustaining. It is funded entirely by the fees it collects, meaning general taxpayer dollars are not spent on it, he said.

Melton also said that the licenses the drivers get are clearly marked "not for federal use," meaning they not only can't use them to register to vote, but they also are not valid as an identification to board an airplane or get into a federal building.

Despite some GOP opposition, the bill does have some Republican support. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, originally introduced it in the Senate with Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, where six other Republicans voted for it, including Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

Earlier this month, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, voted for the bill in the House Appropriations Committee, while Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, supported it in the House Transportation & Local Government Committee.

The bill requires one more House vote before heading back to the Senate for final approval. From there, it would go to the governor's desk.

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