Bill to keep illegal immigrants from getting licenses defeated

By The Associated Press March 9, 2011 

OLYMPIA -- A Republican-led motion to bring a vote on a bill that would have restricted driver's licenses access to illegal immigrants and attempted to stop other identification fraud was defeated this week in the Washington Senate, dealing proponents of the measure a major defeat.

In a procedural motion, Republicans asked the Senate to consider the bill, which had not been brought to the floor by Democrats, who hold the majority and control of which bills get a vote.

But the motion failed 23-25 in the waning minutes of a deadline to vote on bills in their chambers of origin.

Among the no votes was chief sponsor Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, but she said that she will take the issue to the governor.

"Nothing is ever dead in the Legislature. I'm going to go talk to the governor," Haugen said. "I'd ask the governor that she needs to stand and take leadership in this role. She needs to recognize what's happening in this nation."

Washington is one of two states in the country that still let illegal immigrants obtain driver's licenses. New Mexico is the other state that still allows such practice, but lawmakers there also are considering bills to close the access.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has said that if the Legislature passed a bill dealing with driver's licenses, she would sign it.

The bill would have required applicants for driver's license to provide proof of residency and a social security number. Supporters had said the bill aimed to stop identification fraud. Haugen said that there are 300,000 more driver's licenses in this state than there are drivers.

Opponents, though, had said that it would have led the illegal immigrant community to drive without licenses and car insurance. They also have said that the estimated cost of the bill -- about $1.5 million in the next two-year budget -- is too expensive in a year that the state faces a deficit.

After this week's defeat, the bill appears dead. No other licenses bill received a vote on the House.

This week's vote was the furthest a bill dealing with the driver's license issue ever has been in the Legislature.

Haugen, who is the chairwoman of the Senate transportation committee, said that for years she had stopped similar bills because she was worried about the impact on the farm industry, which has a significant number of illegal immigrants working using fake identification.

The Senator argued that her bill would have put restrictions on identification fraud by imposing stricter rules on state residency, adding that illegal immigrants currently in the state would have not been affected by the proposed law.

She said that she's concerned that if lawmakers don't act, an initiative will be approved in this state with stricter rules affecting farm workers. But attempts at such initiatives have failed in the last half a decade in the state, with organizers failing to get the signatures needed.

An attempt to ask Democratic Senate Floor Leader Sen. Tracey Eide why leadership did not support the bill, an aide said she had no time for questions. Through spokesman Jeff Reading, other Senate leadership also declined to comment.

Republican Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said he was disappointed that the bill didn't get a vote, adding that he worries the state will attract more identification fraud.

"We're probably going to be the only state in the union without restrictions," King said.

Late last year, the Department of Licensing tightened rules around obtaining a license, requiring people who can't provide social securities to prove that they have state residency.

Craig Keller, organizer for Respect WA, the group that has pushed for initiatives with stricter immigration rules said that it was a shame that the bill didn't get a full vote.

"It was a start to bring some sanity to the driver's license issue," Keller said.

But Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, whose organization lobbied against the bill, said that state lawmakers are trying to fill the void left by the federal government's lack of action on immigration law, but that restricting driver's licenses does not address immigration issues.

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