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September 2, 2015

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Sen. Mo Denis proposes driver’s privilege cards for undocumented immigrants

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sen. Mo Denis asks a question during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in Carson City.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring legislation that would require the state to issue a driver’s privilege card to undocumented immigrants and other Nevadans who don’t want to jump through the stricter identification hoops for a true driver’s license.

The driver’s privilege card could not be used for identification but would allow undocumented immigrants and others to drive legally and obtain liability insurance, Denis said.

“In 2006, I did the research and I was ready to do a bill draft request, but I didn’t have enough support to do it,” Denis said. “So, it’s never been tried officially before now.”

Denis’s Democratic co-sponsors for the driver’s privilege card include Assemblyman Steven Brooks, Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante-Adams, Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and Sen. Ruben Kihuen.

No Republican co-sponsors have signed on to the proposed legislation.

Denis said issuing driver’s privilege cards to undocumented immigrants is a safety issue, not an immigration issue. Still, the notion has been controversial in other states, as opponents argue immigrants who broke the law to come to the United States shouldn’t be granted the privilege to drive.

Denis contends the ability to drive legally would prompt more undocumented immigrants to obtain insurance, increasing safety for all motorists.

“This really is an issue about safety,” Denis said. “We’ve had a lot of hit-and-runs that occur because of individuals driving without a license.

“So, the concept is basically giving somebody permission to drive. This isn’t just about undocumented individuals. Some people are here legally on a visa and normally wouldn’t be allowed to get a license. Or maybe there is a citizen who wouldn’t want to go through the process now for the driver’s license with all of the requirements under the Real ID act.”

Denis said Gov. Brian Sandoval expressed support for the concept in a brief phone conversation with Denis.

“He is good with the concept, he just needs to see the details,” Denis said.

“I think that we are going to get Republican support on the issue. If you really look at it, the true issue is a safety issue.”

Mere weeks after Hispanic voters played an influential — and growing — role in the 2012 election, state lawmakers are jumping on policy issues seen as favorable to the Latino voting bloc.

Last week, Sandoval backed a state policy that allows the DMV to issue driver’s licenses to young immigrants brought to the country illegally who are eligible for a deportation reprieve through Obama’s deferred action program.

The leadership of the Senate Republican caucus also expressed support for that policy.

Denis’ driver’s privilege legislation is modeled after a similar law originally passed in Utah in 2005. That state recently passed amendments requiring immigrants to submit fingerprints and criminal background checks to renew or obtain a card — restrictions that Denis said he isn’t entirely supportive of.

Denis also said Nevada would have to work out protections for immigrants worried that such a card would help Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials identify and deport them.

“That’s something that came up in Utah and they were able to work out,” Denis said. “ICE just can’t come in and do that. ICE doesn’t normally do that anyway. For me, we are going to have to have some kind of assurance that this is not going to happen.”

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