Idaho committee advances bill creating restricted driver’s license for undocumented residents
Divided transportation committee took unusual step of sending Senate Bill 1081 to Senate floor without a do-pass recommendation attached
Idaho State Capitol building on January 11, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho Legislature’s Senate Transportation Committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would create a restricted driver’s license available to all people 16 and older residing in Idaho, regardless of their immigration status.
However, the divided committee took the unusual step of sending Senate Bill 1081 to the Senate floor without a recommendation attached to it. The overwhelming majority of bills that advance out of Idaho legislative committees are sent to the floor with recommendations the bills pass. Otherwise, committees usually kill a bill by voting to hold it.
Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, sponsored Senate Bill 1081, which would create the new restricted driver’s license anyone 16 or older who resides in Idaho could obtain, regardless of whether they have a Social Security number.
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Guthrie has worked on the issue for several years and said the focal point of the bill is providing an opportunity for people to obtain a driver’s license regardless of their immigration status. Guthrie said drivers’ licenses “are a basic necessity” and would give all Idahoans 16 and older the opportunity to drive legally. In the process, Guthrie predicted the new restricted licenses would make the roads safer and reduce costs and risks for all motorists by providing a path for more driver’s to legally drive and obtain insurance.
How would Idahoans be able to obtain a restricted driver’s license under Senate Bill 1081?
To obtain a restricted license, drivers would have to live in Idaho, be of legal driving age, pass a driving skills and written test and prove their identity with a passport, birth certificate, consular ID card or another form of identification issued by a foreign government or Native American tribe.
Visually, the restricted driver’s licenses would be oriented vertically, instead of horizontally, Guthrie said.
The restricted license would cost $50 and be valid for two years. It would only be accepted for driving, Guthrie said. The new restricted licenses would not be accepted to purchase firearms, vote or board commercial airline flights.
Fernando Montelongo, who served as a student page in the Idaho Senate during the first part of the 2023 legislative session, testified in support of the restricted driver’s license bill.
“As a son of immigrants, I can tell you the passage of this legislation would bring hope to the undocumented residents of Idaho,” Montelongo told legislators. “Too many people in our communities drive in fear every day of being pulled over, detained, then deported. These people are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who are here to be an active part of the American dream, and they aren’t going anywhere.”
First generation college student Stephanie Gonzalez Tena spoke in favor of the restricted driver’s license, saying she doesn’t want her family to live in fear of driving.
”When I talk about that fear, I am not talking about the fear of running off the road when it is snowing outside or the fear of hydroplaning during a thunderstorm,” Gonzalez Tena told legislators. “I’m talking about the fear of being deported for taking a sick relative to the hospital or the fear of being deported for taking children to school. Everyone should have the right to access a driver’s license regardless of documentation status.”
PODER of Idaho gathers 8,000 signatures for a petition in support of license bill
During Tuesday’s hearing, the organization PODER of Idaho presented a petition with 8,000 signatures supporting the bill to create a restricted driver’s license. PODER of Idaho is an organization that works to empower the Latinx and immigrant communities in the areas of immigrant rights, economic justice, education and social justice.
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members, Idaho Farm Bureau Insurance Company and the Professional Firefighters of Idaho also came out in support of the bill, while the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and Idaho Freedom Foundation spoke in opposition to it.
Retired Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey told the Senate Transportation Committee that members of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association voted unanimously to oppose the bill to create a restricted driver’s license.
“They do not support issuing the driver’s license to those that are in our country illegally,” Lavey said. “There is already a process in place where anyone in our country legally on a work visa can obtain a valid Idaho driver’s license through the sheriff’s office.”
Other members of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association also spoke in opposition to restricted driver’s licenses.
“Sheriffs in general do not feel that issuing this restricted driving card to somebody that’s broken — potentially broken — federal immigration laws is not a good policy for sheriffs,” Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said.
After a 90-minute hearing, Senate Transportation Committee members were clearly divided. Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell, made an unsuccessful motion to hold the bill in committee for further discussion. But Trackel’s motion failed on a tie vote.
Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, pushed to send the bill to the Senate floor without recommendation, acknowledging that her motion was unusual and could be viewed as the committee abdicating its responsibility to vet legislation and make a clear recommendation.
“I am still wrestling with this, and my recommendation is not an indication of potential support on the floor,” Den Hartog said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I know it is a unique motion. We don’t normally send out something without recommendation, and sometimes that feels like an abdication of our responsibility as committee members,” she said. “In this, I think we might need the wisdom of the whole body as we debate and deliberate this.”
Senate Bill 1081 could reach the Senate floor for a vote by the end of this week. If the Idaho Senate passes the bill, it would be sent to the Idaho House of Representatives for consideration.
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