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Immigrant drivers license bill passes House panel despite questions

Updated: January 7, 2013 10:17PM

SPRINGFIELD-A bill granting undocumented immigrants temporary state driver's licenses cleared its first Illinois House hurdle Monday despite homeland security questions.

The House Transportation Vehicles & Safety Committee voted 6-3 to position the legislation favored by immigrant rights organizations for a full House vote later today.

The legislation "seeks to improve safety of our roads and make sure our motorists are trained, tested and insured," said Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor who estimates that 250,000 undocumented immigrants now drive on Illinois roads.

"Our entire state would benefit from Senate Bill 957. If only half the 250,000 get [temporary licenses] and get insured, Illinois insurance policy holders would save $46 million per year," Acevedo said. "Police officers would be able to know who they're stopping."

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has spearheaded passage of the new licensing system for immigrants.

Under the plan, which has already passed the Senate, undocumented immigrants who have lived in Illinois for one year would be eligible to receive a temporary visitors drivers license that would last for three years.

In exchange, those motorists would have to undergo rules-of-the-road training, take a vision test and show proof of auto insurance. The licenses couldn't be used to purchase firearms, to board aircraft or register to vote nor could applicants be licensed to drive semi-trailer trucks or school buses.

But in committee Monday, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police protested the legislation, saying it lacked the proper homeland security safeguards of requiring applicants to undergo fingerprinting and provide federal tax identification numbers.

"Without these basic public safety and homeland security safeguards, this bill is unsafe," Hanover Park Police Chief David Webb told the committee.

Both House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) substituted members to replace critics on the panel to ensure safe passage of the bill to the House floor.

"I think the integrity of the system is compromised if we don't know who these folks are," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst), who voted against the bill in committee.

An aide to Secretary of State Jesse White, who supports the legislation, said it is expected to cost $800,000 to set up within his office initially and then $250,000 a year to maintain thereafter.

Acevedo said adding the cost of fingerprinting to those figures would cause costs to skyrocket. Bearing that out, an official with the Illinois State Police, which supports the bill, said fingerprinting would cost about $25 per applicant.

"The way the state is as far as debt, I think the last thing we need to do is put an extra burden in terms of fingerprinting on the state of Illinois," Acevedo said.

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