HARTFORD — State Rep. Sean Williams early today voted against legislation creating special drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the state for just 90 days. Majority Democrats in controversial fashion rolled out a full version of the bill in the House late Wednesday without the benefit of a public hearing and thorough committee scrutiny. It wasn’t until a roughly 8-hour debate ended at 5:45 a.m. that the bill passed the House by a 74-55 vote. The program begins Jan. 1, 2015.
Williams was among lawmakers who pointed to significant problems with the bill, including an inadequate background check process that makes no attempt to ascertain if the driver’s license applicant has a felony criminal record outside the boundaries of Connecticut.
“There’s no doubt this legislation will have significant impact on this state, but the process used to get this bill through the House didn’t reflect that,” said Williams who joined Republicans in a calling for creating a bipartisan task force to provide robust analysis of the issue by Jan. 2014. “Today, majority lawmakers showed the folks we all represent they believe that details don’t matter—and that’s likely to upset people who rightly expect the men and women they send to Hartford to understand the effects produced by what they’re voting on.”
A spring Quinnipiac Poll reported that 65 percent of respondents opposed licensure for undocumented immigrants.
Opponents of the legislation say it would impose significant financial and staffing burdens on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which would likely need extra personnel and resources to process the deluge of driver’s license applications anticipated by the bill’s advocates. The legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee had yet to consider the concept before the vote, either.
“This vote is representative of the unfortunate one-party-rule-approach that’s now norm at the Capitol,” Williams said. “Republican legislators in the House represent more than a million people in this state, yet we’re consistently given complex, far-reaching legislation under the cover of night with the expectation that we’ll support it without knowing what’s inside and without a realistic chance the majority party will adopt any of the suggestions we make on behalf of our constituents.”
House proponents of the bill were unable to provide concrete details about how many people would be eligible for the new licenses, doing little to allay concerns that the applicant pool might be significantly larger than anticipated.
Connecticut would be the only state on the east coast to allow such licenses, raising concerns the state could become a haven people who want them—in particular, people with criminal records elsewhere.
Seven states that previously granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants have since repealed those laws in part due to Homeland Security and insurance-related issues.
Among the other failings of the legislation targeted by Williams and Republicans is the alarming lack of a mechanism to validate where an individual is originally from, or where they currently reside. It also allows unverifiable documents such as emails to suffice as valid forms of proving residence.