BOSTON — The Senate this week plans to pass a bill that would give immigrants without legal status a pathway to apply for and obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license, with supporters saying they believe they have enough votes for it to survive to a possible veto from Governor Charlie Baker.
The Senate has prepared the bill for debate next Thursday, with amendments expected Monday afternoon. Senate Speaker Karen Spilka said the bill was “very close” to the version the House passed in February, and Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, called the differences technical.
At a press conference with 13 state senators, Roxana Rivera of the 32BJ SEIU union said versions of the licensing access bill had been tabled in Beacon Hill for nearly 20 years. He was the subject of a fierce advocacy campaign, including a hunger strike by activists at some point in 2020.
Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition, said in a statement that the expected Senate vote marks an “exciting time in the fight for immigrant and refugee rights in Massachusetts.”
This week’s vote would bring the measure closer to Baker’s office, and because he has said in the past that he opposes the idea of driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, supporters are aware of a potential veto.
The House passed his bill 120 to 36, above the threshold needed to override a veto. If all senators vote, the Senate would need votes of at least 27 for a waiver.
“I’m pretty sure and very confident that the Senate will pass this, and if they come back to it, we’ll make sure we get the same (votes for) a waiver,” said Sen. Adam Gomez, D-Springfield.
Gomez said the bill would give undocumented immigrants “the same opportunities and comforts that many of us take for granted – the ability to drive carefree across the state, the ability to take jobs and to go from one place to another”.
Crighton said Massachusetts residents who do not have federal immigration status could, under the bill, apply for a standard driver’s license if they present a foreign passport, consular identification document and at minus one of five other documents – a driver’s license from another state, birth certificate, foreign national ID, foreign driver’s license, or marriage certificate issued by any U.S. jurisdiction .
“Everyone who applies for a standard Massachusetts driver’s license must also provide a document provided they live here, and residents covered by this legislation would be no different,” Crighton said. “We’ve worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders here, including law enforcement, to refine that language.”
During the House debate, State Rep. William Straus, D-Boston, described the documentation requirements as meeting the “Baker standard” because the governor had previously expressed concern about the concept of licensing people who cannot prove their identity.
Baker hinted he might still have reservations, saying after the House vote, “This license we’re talking about is not a driver’s privilege card, which they have in a bunch of other states. “It looks exactly like a Massachusetts driver’s license. You can’t tell the difference between this and a regular license.”
Baker also said last month he was disappointed the House rejected an amendment by Minority Leader Brad Jones that would have required the Motor Vehicle Registry to share information with city clerks seeking to verify the eligibility of license holders to vote.
The House added language to its final bill to clarify that an applicant for a license or learner’s permit who does not provide proof of legal presence will not automatically be registered to vote under the registration law. automatic voters in the state.
The Senate bill would direct the secretary of state’s office to develop regulations to ensure that driver’s license applications do not result in improper voter registration, Crighton said.
In the House, opponents of the bill raised concerns about voter registration and the potential to incentivize illegal immigration, and said that while supporters tout the support of law enforcement groups laws, other law enforcement officials refused to endorse it. Similar arguments could emerge when the Senate returns to its bill.
One of the support groups is the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association.
Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque, vice president of the association, said the bill would help ensure people are trained and insured before hitting the road. He said a sticking point for him with previous drafts was that “the identification process didn’t go far enough” but that this year’s bill “really emulates a regular license application”.
“So again, how is this not going?” he said.
No House Republicans voted for the bill. None of the three Senate Republicans attended Thursday’s press conference.