Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 1:28 p.m.
A procession of supporters favoring creation of a Nevada driver’s privilege card testified before the Nevada Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday, emphasizing the public safety benefits of such a policy.
Well over a dozen people testified in support of the measure SB 303 during the public comments period, and no one offered a statement against the proposed legislation.
The hearing was in Carson City, where an overflow room was needed for all of the observers. In Las Vegas the hearing was broadcast in the Grant Sawyer building, where approximately 100 people turned out to watch. Several of those in Las Vegas also offered testimony.
State Sens. Mo Denis and Ruben Kihuen, both D-Las Vegas, presented the bill to the committee, and, like most of those who testified, they highlighted the public safety benefits of having an alternative to the driver’s license without as stringent identity requirements.
“Denying driving privilege to the undocumented population jeopardizes safety and raises insurance rates for everyone,” Kihuen told the committee.
There are an estimated 100,000 immigrants living in Nevada without legal residency status, and lawmakers estimated approximately 60,000 of them would apply for the driver’s privilege card. To obtain a Nevada driver’s license proof of identity, such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport, or current immigration documents must be presented. Consular identification cards issued by foreign governments, foreign birth certificates and border crossing cards are not valid forms of identification.
Under the proposed law, applicants who were born outside the United States may show a foreign passport, birth certificate or consular identification card to obtain a Nevada driver’s privilege card.
The driver’s privilege card will be available to people who cannot produce all of the documentation needed for a Nevada driver’s license. It would allow the holder to legally drive in the state but could not be used as an official identification or to apply for federal or state benefits. The application fee would be $22, the same as for a driver’s license, but the driver’s privilege card would have to be renewed annually instead of every four years like a traditional license.
“SB 303 will bring in new revenue at a time when we desperately need it,” Kihuen said. “There are over 100,000 undocumented people in Nevada who could benefit form this proposed bill. It could mean millions of dollars in stimulus to our economy. They will purchase cars, they will purchase insurance and they will drive to stores, take trips and more easily find a job.”
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, using the estimate of 60,000 applicants, said it would need to hire 14 new staff members to handle the demand. The additional staffing would need to be approved by the Legislature. Even with the increased staffing, the DMV estimates a revenue surplus of $250,000 a year from the driver’s privilege cards.
Assemblywomen Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, and Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, all offered their support for the bill to the committee, as did representatives from insurance agencies, immigrant advocacy groups, attorneys, labor unions and the American Civil Liberties Union, which proposed amendments while still backing the bill.
Insurance agent Esperanza Montelongo said those who cannot get a license often drive anyway, and then face fines close to more than $1,100 when they are caught.
“These are relatively minor infractions, but then they never get out of the judicial system as the fines pile up,” she said.
The Nevada bill is modeled after similar legislation in Utah, and two Utah state senators also testified. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the law had contributed to Utah’s low rate of uninsured drivers and had improved road safety as more drivers are tested and insured.
“The angst from right (when we passed the bill) was that Utah would be a magnet, a mecca, a gateway for a subsequent influx of undocumented individuals because we provided this privilege. The data doesn’t support that,” Bramble said, pointing out that after peaking around 43,000 driver’s privilege cards, the number in Utah has since dropped below 40,000.
Bramble said there was concern in Utah of criminals applying for the card. Of 40,000 applicants in Utah, two were found to have criminal records, he said. Utah eventually added a fingerprinting and background check provision to its law, something Denis has resisted under the argument that it would discourage participation and the undermine the intent of the law.
“You must concede that they have violated immigration laws,” Bramble said of some of the potential applicants. “Beyond that though, it appears from our experience in Utah that folks who come forward to apply for this are not the criminal element, they are not the folks law enforcement is seeking out. … Pass it or not, they are on our roads.”
Leonard Cardinale, representing the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association, also supported the bill.
“We see this as beneficial because it provides an avenue for training and experience. People are forced to learn the rules of the road,” Cardinale told the committee.