Monday, March 18, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Nevada lawmakers on Monday took some ideas from their neighbors in Utah, with the introduction of a bill that would allow immigrants without legal residency to obtain driver’s privilege cards.
Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis said the bill, which has bipartisan support, addressed a serious public safety issue and hopefully would reduce the number of uninsured and untested drivers on the roads.
“We know there is an issue with hit-and-runs, people fleeing because they are not licensed, and there is the issue of insurance rates being higher because of uninsured motorists,” Denis said. “From what we’ve seen in other states that have this, there are some public-safety benefits. It’s a win-win for everybody. We know that people who are driving have at least taken the test.”
When Democrats announced their intention to introduce a driver’s privilege bill back in December, the idea garnered bipartisan support, including from Republican leader Sen. Michael Roberson, who has co-sponsored the bill.
Next, the legislation, Senate Bill 303, will head to the Senate Transportation Committee, where one of the bill’s early opponents, Sen. Bill Gustavson, sits.
Gustavson did not immediately return a request for comment Monday, but he has previously balked at the idea of allowing immigrants who are residing in the country illegally to legally drive.
“I would not be supportive of just letting people come in the country illegally and giving them a driver’s license. No!” he said in December.
The bill was modeled after Utah’s driver’s privilege law, which was first passed in 2005, Denis said.
An estimated 60,000 people in Nevada could be expected to apply for the cards, which would have to be renewed annually. Regular driver’s licenses are renewed every four years. Utah’s number of driver’s privilege cards peaked in 2008 at more than 43,000, but has since fallen below 37,000.
In 2011, Utah lawmakers added a provision to the law requiring applicants to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check, all at an additional cost to the applicant.
Opponents of those changes said they would negate the intent of the law, to diminish the number of people on the road without insurance and who have not passed a driver’s test. Denis said he told his staff to leave the fingerprinting and background checks out of the Nevada law.
Denis also made sure to include a provision that protects the information collected on the applicants from use in immigration enforcement.
“This isn’t a bill about immigration,” Denis said. “I didn’t want it to turn into an immigration thing; that’s a federal issue and not a state issue.”
In 2005 Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which stipulated universal requirements for anything that is intended to be used as identification for the federal government, for example a state driver’s license that is also used to board an airplane. The REAL ID Act stipulates applicants for a driver’s license prove their legal residency status.
Under the proposed Nevada law, applicants who were born outside the United States may show a foreign passport, birth certificate or consular identification card to obtain the driver’s privilege card.
The applicant must prove residence in Nevada, and those who do not have a Social Security number must show proof of their Individual Tax Identification Number. The driver’s privilege card cannot be used to apply for any state or federal benefits.
Each card will carry the line: “Not for Federal ID purposes.”
The card is available to everyone and will apply to prospective drivers who are in the country legally, as well. In some cases immigrants in the country on work visas can legally overstay the expiration date on their visa as long as they are still under contract with company that sponsored them. However, because their visa document is not up to date, they would be denied a driver’s license. Any Nevada resident who simply wants to legally drive, but is not concerned with having a federally approved identification, could also apply.
The bill is also seen as a revenue generator, Denis added. Applicants will have to pay a fee initially, and then once every year to renew. The application fee was not included in the bill.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has said in the past that he would not support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants but was open to considering a driver’s privilege card.
Reached Monday via email, the governor’s communications director Mary-Sarah Kinner said since the bill had just been introduced and could be amended before reaching Sandoval’s desk, the governor had no comment on it.
Rosemary Flores, a Las Vegas advocate for immigrants who helped organize a pro-reform immigration march last month, said the bill was a positive move. In fact, on Monday she said her son was driving her car when he was in an accident. The driver of the other car said he was from China, living in the country illegally, and offered Flores’ son cash before fleeing the scene.
“I think (the bill) is great, because we have a lot of undocumented people driving without licenses,” she said. “It will improve safety. Sometimes they get in an accident, and they run because they have no license or insurance. This allows them to legally drive and get insurance, which helps everyone.”