Immigration is a federal responsibility, outside the purview of states. But Vermont State senators say they'll do what they can while they continue to wait for national reform. Friday, they voted overwhelmingly to grant driving privileges to residents without the documents necessary to get a regular Vermont license.
"Really the impetus for this is to-- how to provide mobility for this group of workers who predominantly are supporting our dairy industry," said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County.
Senate Bill 38 creates a privilege card not valid for federal ID, but otherwise equivalent to any other Vermont license. Foreign IDs, certified birth or marriage certificates and unstamped passports can prove name, as well as date and place of birth. Mail received at the individual's residence can serve as proof of residency in the Green Mountain State when coupled with bank statements or government-issued documents like tax returns.
Before one can get a privilege card, they must meet all the testing involved in regular licensure. The written test is available in four languages, but to pass behind the wheel, drivers will need to know the rules of the road and basic English.
The cards would allow state and local law enforcement to interact with undocumented people without considering their immigration status.
Cars must be insured, but drivers would not be required to get additional insurance.
"It gives us as a traveling public a measure of safety," said Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County.
Flory, who voted against the bill, says people will jump behind the wheel regardless of legality. She says the measure provides a convenience for those allowed to drive, and safety and insurance for everyone else on Vermont's roads.
Strong estimates for Vermont's undocumented population are not available, but is believed to be about 1,500 people.
The bill has the support of the governor, and if it passes the House, would become law on the first day of 2014.
The original proposal in the previous session would have allowed individuals to receive regular licenses, but doing so would violate federal ID standards passed in 2005 that Vermont has only come into compliance with in the last few years.
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