By Bob Katzen
The House 119-36, Senate 32-8, gained the two-thirds vote necessary to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of legislation that would allow, starting July 1, 2023, undocumented/illegal immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts standard driver’s license.
The legislation requires an applicant “without legal presence” in the United States to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) 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 had 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.”
“By making driver’s licenses accessible to individuals regardless of immigration status, Massachusetts will take a strong step to both strengthen our economy and strengthen relations between immigrants and law enforcement,” said Elizabeth Sweet, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
“This is a victory for all, making our roads safer and allowing the 185,000 immigrants without status the ability to earn a driver’s license,” said sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “No one should fear deportation over essential everyday tasks, such as getting to work, school, doctor’s appointment and grocery stores.”
“We all know the many issues our commonwealth’s RMV has had,” said Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield), an opponent of the proposal. “Just this week it was announced that 53,000 licenses sent out were missing a key fraud protection feature and will need to be replaced. My vote has nothing to do with immigration and has everything to do with the enormous ask we are making on an already underfunded and understaffed RMV. I remain concerned that RMV employees will be now tasked with reviewing hundreds of additional foreign documents, in hundreds of different languages and formats, without any additional funding or training.”
“This commonsense legislation will improve safety for all on our roads, and ensure all drivers are licensed, registered and insured … This bill has broad support from numerous members of law enforcement, local faith and business leaders and immigrant communities statewide,” said Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville), a co-sponsor of the measure.
Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) said, “I do not support this legislation as I believe it disincentivizes the individual from pursuing citizenship through legal means … This bill does not provide a clear distinction on the driver’s licenses between an unlawfully present individual and a U.S. citizen nor does it permit the RMV to share the citizenship information with municipalities that are entrusted to register only U.S. citizens to vote. Without these protections, the chances that these individuals will be able to register to vote increases.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) said she was disappointed that the governor is spreading misinformation about voting access when he well knows the strong safeguards that are already in place. “Gov. Baker’s own RMV has been processing driver’s licenses for years for those already eligible to drive but ineligible to vote such as 16- and 17-year-olds, people with green cards and student and worker visas … Sixteen other states have implemented similar laws already and have seen improved safety on roads with no issues related to voting.”
“Despite the record high overcollection of Massachusetts tax dollars being available to provide some kind of relief to families struggling with inflation and high prices, the speaker is prioritizing giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses over Gov. Baker’s warnings that it will most likely lead to voter fraud,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Just because the speaker was able to twist arms and override the governor’s veto, doesn’t mean these House members will be off the hook. With the vote taken, they will now have to face their constituents and explain why they follow their speaker’s orders instead of their constituents’ opinions.”
(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