Driver's Permit Proposal for Undocumented Immigrants Stalls

An amendment that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a permit to legally drive and purchase insurance in Texas was derailed Friday on a point of order.

But state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Committee who authored the amendment to a Senate bill, said he isn’t giving up.

The measure, he said, is a smart public-safety policy and a way for lawmakers to take the lead on an important immigration issue during the ongoing gridlock at the federal level.

The amendment, which was first filed as House Bill 3206, by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, would have required that applicants prove they have lived in the state for at least a year, submit to background checks, agree to be fingerprinted and pay  $150 in fees in order to become eligible.

“This is all about making sure that drivers drive with licenses or permits and with insurance,” he said. “Right now we have a lot of people that are driving without either one. I don’t believe that’s the right policy.”

 

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, called a point of order on the amendment, which was attached to Senate Bill 1729, by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville. That bill would create a pilot program in which the Texas Department of Public Safety, the agency that issues the state’s IDs and driver’s licenses, enters into an agreement with county governments that allows county offices to issue or renew licenses and election ID cards.

Taylor said the intent of his point of order — which challenged whether the amendment was germane to the bill — was to protect the Senate bill, which he co-sponsored in the House. The action was sustained.

“Had that amendment gone on, if it would have survived the chamber, it certainly would have been vetoed by the governor,” he said. “I didn’t want to take a chance. I was trying to protect my bill.”

Asked about whether he believes the driver’s permit is a good idea — regardless of its connection to the Senate bill — Taylor said solving immigration issues rests with federal lawmakers.

“We have a very broken immigration system in this country” that is unfair to illegal immigrants and taxpayers, he said. “I think that Washington needs to come up with a program that work for everybody.”

But Cook disagreed with the ruling that derailed the amendment and added that the measure had broad support.

“My disappointment is that Representative Van Taylor called the point of order and didn’t allow the body to vote. I think that’s very unfortunate,” he said. “This is a pilot program. What better opportunity than a pilot program to see if this would actually work?”

Lawmakers who supported the measure said it would solve an unintended consequence of actions the Legislature took in 2011, when an amendment attached to a fiscal matters bill mandated that applicants for a new or renewed driver’s license or ID card prove they are in the country legally. State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the driving force behind that effort, supports the driver’s permit proposal, Cook said.

“The effect of [the 2011 measure] was that you have a whole group of people that have historically driven legally [and] responsibly with insurance who can no longer renew their driver’s license,” he said.

With 10 days left before the session ends, Cook said he knows timing is critical as he moves forward.

“I hope there is still time to continue to work on this issue because it’s so incredibly important,” he said. “I don’t think we should wait for the federal government, somewhere down the road, to address this issue.”

 

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