Transportation panel may explore driving certificates for undocumented immigrants during interim

03/03/2015 06:20 PM

FRANKFORT — Undocumented immigrants could be granted driving certificates under a bill its sponsor hopes will be studied further before next year’s legislative session.

The House Transportation Committee considered House Bill 267, sponsored by Rep. Larry Clark, Tuesday but took no vote on the measure. HB 267 would make driving certificates available to immigrants who’ve resided in Kentucky for three years, with those older than 21 driving on an instructional permit for 30 days and those younger than 21 using the permit for 180 days, and Clark, D-Louisville, said he wants the issue to face further scrutiny ahead of next year’s 60-day session.

Clark, who was joined by two undocumented immigrants, an immigration attorney and a Louisville Metro Police officer from Brazil in his committee testimony, said the inability of those immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses and auto insurance puts other motorists at risk.

“A lot of people who are driving today don’t have insurance because they don’t have a driver’s license,” said Clark, noting 15,724 accidents were attributed to uninsured drivers in 2014. “… I’m just trying to give these people an opportunity to be treated just like we are, and I know they work on a lot of farms and a lot of areas. They do a lot of jobs in Kentucky a lot of people won’t do.”

The legislation would help immigrants like Fredy Encarnacion, a University of Kentucky student who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 17 for better healthcare for a cleft lip and palate. Despite his status as an undocumented immigrant, the pre-dental student who hopes to serve in the military says he is “privileged” to be in the U.S.

Still, his parents continue to drive without licenses even though they are insured. He said his parents refused to call police after another driver ran a red light and totaled their car, and his father was suspended from driving for two years after a traffic stop last year, although he continues to get behind the wheel because of the necessity.

“A few years ago my uncle was deported for driving without a license,” Encarnacion said. “He was separated from his wife and his newborn daughter. My parents want a license. For my parents driving without a license means fear — fear that they could be deported if they were stopped, which would mean permanent separation from me, my sister and my U.S.-born brother.

“I have grown in American, and Mexico is now foreign to me. If my parents were forced into detention and out of the country, it would mean our family members would be kept apart permanently.”

The proposal carries political risk, as evidenced from some negative ads launched in last year’s election cycle.

Lawmakers like House Majority Whip Johnny Bell and Rep. Jim Gooch who voted on a similar piece of legislation in 2013 bore the brunt of opposition attacks during the midterms, including a controversial mailer by the Republican Party of Kentucky that juxtaposed images of the World Trade Center towers aflame, the driver’s license of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers and a caravan of Islamic State militants.

But the bill has support from law enforcement officers. Tulio Tourinho, an officer with the Louisville Metro Police Department, said states that have enacted similar bills have seen their hit-and-run accident rates decline.

Those with photo IDs also are more likely to report crimes, and the updated residential information and photographs on the cards could make it easier to apprehend criminal suspects, he said.

“I identify as a conservative Republican, and as such, I would like to point out that implementing a policy that allows immigrants to legally obtain a Kentucky ID or driver’s license would help generate revenue for the commonwealth as well as for businesses,” said Tourinho, an immigrant from Brazil. “By bringing individuals into the fold and working to harness everyone’s strengths and talents, we have an opportunity to increase prosperity for all Kentuckians.”

The proposal intrigued some on the committee.

Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said HB 267 would prove important in the state’s agricultural economy while Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said the bill addresses a problem on Kentucky’s roadways.

“I think that this bill is a good idea,” Floyd said. “I think that we would be well advised to ensure that everyone on the roads in Kentucky know the rules of the road and that everyone who drives in Kentucky is insured.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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