Our Opinion: Driver's license bill makes roads safer

A sample of a Massachusetts Real ID driver's license.

Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier believes her quest to assure that every state resident has access to a driver's license regardless of immigration status will succeed this session in large part because of a changed attitude toward unfairly maligned immigrants. Another strong argument is that safer roads will result, which should help sway skeptics.

The Pittsfield Democrat will be on Beacon Hill today for a hearing on the Work & Family Mobility Act before the Joint Committee on Transportation. The legislation, which Rep. Farley-Bouvier filed along with two colleagues, continues an effort she began in 2014.

Passage of the bill will benefit immigrants in Berkshire County, a region with limited public transportation, by enabling them to legally drive to their jobs. In a meeting with Eagle editors on Tuesday, the representative maintained that the scapegoating of immigrants by President Trump, and the various cruel measures he has taken against them, has created sympathy toward them in the state that will cause residents to support this initiative. The bill would prohibit using licenses as a basis for immigration prosecution. With each state required to establish by fall of 2020 a Real ID-compliant license, which requires a Social Security number and proof of citizenship, the Farley-Bouvier bill would require the creation also of a standard license for those without legal immigration status.

The strongest argument to make to those who see this as a handout to illegal immigrants is one of public safety. Getting a driver's license requires acquiring car insurance, and reducing the number of uninsured drivers is in everyone's best interest. Getting a license requires knowledge of the state's driving laws and passage of a vision test. Along with safer roads, passage of this initiative will generate much-needed state revenue in the form of fees for licenses and registrations. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimates that this initiative could generate as much as $6 million in revenue within the first three years of implementation.

It's significant that the groups and organizations who have come out in favor of the legislation represent a variety of interests. The strong support of labor organizations, including the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, and business groups like the Alliance for Business Leadership, attests to the importance of immigrants to the economy of Massachusetts. Groups like Catholic Charities and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action back the initiative from the human rights perspective. And immigrant advocacy groups like the Berkshire Immigrant Center want to help immigrants improve their lot economically while contributing to safer highways.

Rep. Farley-Bouvier hopes that if the legislation can avoid stalling in committee as it has in the past that the strong arguments for the legislation and the broad support for it will persuade a skeptical Gov. Baker to sign off on it. Neighboring Vermont and Connecticut have already passed similar initiatives into law.

When asked by The Eagle why she has persisted with her efforts to win support for her initiative, the Pittsfield Democrat replied that it is "the right thing to do." It is the right thing to do for immigrants, regardless of status, who contribute to the economy and face cruel attacks from the president, including a bevy of actions in August targeting immigrants in general and their children in particular. It is also the practical thing to do for those who want safer roads and believe that everyone in the state who uses those roads should contribute to the state's coffers.