Farley-Bouvier renews push to allow undocumented in state to get driver's license

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PITTSFIELD — State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier thinks it's important that all motorists in the state are licensed drivers — regardless of immigration status.

"Having everybody trained, licensed and insured makes the roads in Massachusetts safer, and it makes it more fair," the Pittsfield Democrat said, noting that "anybody who is on the road" would benefit. "Nobody wants to be in an accident with an uninsured driver."

Farley-Bouvier is renewing her push — this is the third time she has proposed legislation on the topic — to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's licenses in Massachusetts. A bill she filed in 2014 landed in a dead-end study. Legislation that she filed in 2015 had more than 50 co-sponsors and drew public hearings, but no action ever was taken.

The current legislation, which Farley-Bouvier is sponsoring with state Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville, and state Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, was filed when the current two-year legislative session began in January. A hearing on their proposal, The Work & Family Mobility Act, is scheduled for Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Transportation at the Statehouse in Boston.

"I'm still doing it because it's the right thing to do," Farlev-Bouvier said Tuesday, during a meeting with The Eagle's editorial board.

The bill would allow all qualified state residents to apply for a standard state driver's license, regardless of immigrant status, while keeping the state in full compliance with federal REAL ID requirements.

In March 2018, the state instituted a two-tier system for driver's licenses and identity cards: the REAL ID, and the Massachusetts standard driver's license. There are about 185,000 undocumented immigrants living in Massachusetts.

"When Ellis Island opened in 1892, there were no driver's licenses," Farley-Bouvier said, referring to the famous port of entry in New York City through which many immigrants passed when they came to the United States. "Most states started [issuing driver's licenses] in the 1930s. The idea that we have tied that ability to immigration status is a pretty new concept.

"The immigration issue is a national problem," she said. "We don't have the ability to make any changes there. We have to look at the abilities we have in Massachusetts. Instead of having roads that are less and less safe because more people are driving without a license, we can control that here in Massachusetts because having a driver's license is a state function."

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Referring to her own family, Farley-Bouvier said, "between the five of us, we pay a lot to the [Registry of Motor Vehicles], and I think everybody who's driving should pay. It's an important source of revenue for our transportation system."

If the state chose to issue driver's licenses to all its residents, regardless of their immigration status, the proposal could generate $6 million in initial revenue for the state within the first three years of implementation, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

Critics of these proposals have stated that an influx of illegal immigrants seeking driver's licenses with the state of Massachusetts would occur if these measures were approved. In January, Gov. Charlie Baker said he would veto the legislation, a stance that he has taken in the past.

Baker never has said why he is against the legislation, Farley-Bouvier said. But she believes that things could be different this time around.

"I think once the governor understands the bill more, I think he's going to be more open-minded to it," she said.

Thirteen other states, including Connecticut, New York and Vermont, have enacted laws that allow undocumented residents to obtain driver's licenses. Massachusetts is one of eight states that have filed similar legislation this year.

The current proposal also has the backing of several labor organizations, something that Farley-Bouvier said was lacking in the past. They include several state and regional chapters of the Service Employees International Union, which has 1.9 million members in the U.S. and Canada; the Massachusetts Teachers Association; Western Mass. Jobs with Justice; and the Western Mass. Area Labor Federation.

"They just see that it's a need for their members," she said.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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