Legislation would help undocumented immigrants drive legally

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Undocumented immigrants would be able to obtain a Minnesota driver’s license under legislation that continued its advance Thursday toward the House floor.

Current state law requires driver’s license applicants to show they are U.S. citizens or are living in the country legally. HF348, approved Thursday by the House Transportation Finance Committee, would modify eligibility requirements for a driver’s license to allow applicants to use identification cards issued by another country as proof of identity; remove citizenship requirements; and eliminate immigration status check dates on the card for applicants with short-term visas.

Applicants must still have a verifiable Minnesota address, said Pat McCormack, director of the division of Driver and Vehicle Services.

Latino supporters of the legislation crowded a House hearing room for Thursday’s hearing. Opponents of the bill earlier this month said those living in the country illegally shouldn’t be able to obtain Minnesota licenses. But, Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls), the bill’s sponsor, told the committee it isn’t an issue of illegal immigration.

“It’s a public safety issue,” she said.

Thousands of undocumented residents are driving illegally on the state’s roads without proper licensure or car insurance under current law, Clark said; the bill would clear hurdles to obtaining both and, in turn, make Minnesota roads safer.

Approved last month by the Transportation Policy Committee, the bill will now head to the House Ways and Means Committee. A companion, SF271, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls), awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee.

McCormack estimated the cost of the legislation at roughly $40,000. That, she said, would be due to change orders in the state’s printing contract for licenses and IDs.

A companion, SF271, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls), awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee.

If signed into law, Minnesota would become the fifth state to allow undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license.