Driver's license bill for Massachusetts wouldn't penalize applicants based on immigration status

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BOSTON — Regardless of their immigration status, everyone in Massachusetts should have access to a driver's license, according to state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who introduced legislation Wednesday proposing as much.

The Pittsfield Democrat joined forces with Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville, and Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, to file The Work & Family Mobility Act, a bill amending sections of the driver's license law to allow all residents, regardless of their legal status, to obtain the state's standard five-year license.

"I pay lots of RMV fees," Farley-Bouvier said, noting what it takes to get her children on the road at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. "Every driver should be paying those fees, and now we have a system where we have a lot of people driving who don't have access to a license, so they're not paying those fees."

If passed, the legislation would not affect the federal Real ID licenses, which require multiple layers of proof of citizenship or lawful residence, as well as a Social Security number. The standard IDs have lesser threshold of proof.

The bill filed Wednesday would prohibit using licenses as a basis for immigration prosecution.

This is not the first time Farley-Bouvier has tried to take immigration out of the equation when it comes to driver's licenses.

In 2014, a bill on the topic filed by Farley-Bouvier landed in a dead-end study. A version refiled with the House in 2015 had more than 50 co-sponsors and drew public hearings, but by the end of that legislative session, momentum had faded and no action was taken.

"I've been an advocate for access to driver's licenses for many years," she said Wednesday. "The filing of it this session is just really great timing, because last session we passed the Real ID law. ... It makes it really simple that the standard license already says it's not for federal ID, and so this makes it just a very simple change in the law."

A dozen other states, including Vermont and Connecticut, have passed similar legislation.

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People, regardless of their immigration status, are on the roads, taking their kids to schools and doctors and going to work, Farley-Bouvier said. Allowing them to have licenses would not only make their lives easier, but also make the roads safer, because these drivers would be educated on local laws, she said.

The bill has been supported by 32BJ SEIU, a union representing 18,000 service workers across the state, many of them immigrants.

"This is an issue that many advocates for years here in Massachusetts have fought [for], and we think that this is a moment, given what's happening in our country, that we're needed to stand up for immigrants," said Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. "This is a bill that makes sense, right? It will make us safer."

Brooke Mead, executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, has been keeping an eye on driver's license legislation dating to at least 2006. She's hopeful that the timing of this bill will make it stick.

She also believes that, in the past, people believed that issues regarding immigration should be left up to the federal government, but that might be changing.

"We have a government shutdown right now because we can't even agree on border security," she said.

This legislation, she said, is particularly important in communities like Berkshire County, where public transportation is lacking.

"There are going to be people, and there are already many people, in the country and even in the commonwealth and Berkshire County, who are going to drive without a driver's license," Mead said of the current law. "We could be a safer community earning money and supporting people who are already supporting us."

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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