By Bob Katzen

The House 118-36, Senate 32-8, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a conference committee version of legislation that would, starting July 1, 2023, allow undocumented/illegal immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts standard driver’s license. The House and Senate had approved different versions of the measure and this compromise was reached by a conference committee comprised of three senators and three representatives. The wide margin of passage by both branches means that each branch has the necessary two-thirds vote to override Baker’s veto.

The legislation requires an applicant “without legal presence” in the United States to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with a foreign passport and at least one of five other documents: a driver’s license from another state, a foreign driver’s license, a birth certificate, a foreign national identification card or a marriage certificate or divorce decree from any U.S. state.

“I cannot sign this legislation because it requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity,” Baker said in his veto message. “The Registry does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries. The bill also fails to include any measures to distinguish standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses issued to persons who demonstrate lawful presence from those who don’t.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” tweeted Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) following the veto. “We all benefit from increased public safety. And everyone deserves to feel safe and get to work, pick up children and be a part of their communities without fear. The @ma_senate looks forward to overriding this misguided decision.”

“We are deeply disappointed that Gov. Baker has vetoed the [bill],” said Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. “The policy would not only make our communities safer, but benefit our economy and bolster trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. We hope that the Legislature will waste no time in overriding the governor’s veto.”

Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), the sponsor of the measure, said it will make the lives of the more than 185,000 Massachusetts immigrants without status easier by allowing them to earn a standard driver’s license. “Nobody should have to fear detention or deportation over essential everyday tasks, such as getting to work, school, doctor’s appointments and grocery stores noted Crighton.

Opponents said the bill doesn’t include any safeguards to ensure that a license to drive does not become misused for any illegal purposes including access to voting in elections or things that could put the public at risk.

“I do not support this legislation as I believe it disincentivizes the individual from pursuing citizenship through legal means,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton). “It is also counterintuitive to the strong identity laws we have passed that keep us compliant with federal REAL ID requirements where individuals need greater documentation to protect and secure one’s identity when they go to obtain a license.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

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