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Heastie: Assembly to back driver's licenses for those in country illegally

The Speaker says extending driver's licenses would ensure drivers have insurance and make it easier for farm laborers to get to work.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) speaks on Jan.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) speaks on Jan. 29, 2019. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The state Assembly plans to approve a bill that would allow people who are in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, following a campaign to explain the benefits, Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday.

The 150-member chamber has enough votes to pass the legislation, Heastie (D-Bronx) said, after Democrats held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to hash out the issue.

“The consensus that we came out with is we’re supportive of driver’s licenses for all,” Heastie told reporters. Since the chamber is overwhelmingly Democratic, Heastie needs no Republican votes to pass the legislation.

The Democratic-led Senate still hasn’t met to discuss the issue, though it could soon, officials said. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) has said she personally supports the bill. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also supports the idea.

Heastie said extending driver’s licenses would ensure drivers have insurance, which could reduce hit-and-run accidents, among other things, and make it easier for farm laborers to get to work, benefiting farmers.

“We do want to spend a little time messaging and communicating to communities around the state why this is beneficial,” Heastie said. “I think when you look at it from a safety standpoint, a revenue standpoint, an economic standpoint … once they see the benefits of doing the driver’s license bill, people will be much more understanding and open to having them.”

Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) said it’s not an unexpected development given there was plenty of talk that Democrats would return from the recent Easter break ready to push the driver’s license issue. He said he couldn’t see himself supporting the bill.

“When you are taking people who are here illegally and giving them additional benefits that are normally reserved for people who are legal residents, it brings into concern a number of things,” Ra said.

In April, some Capital Region Republican state legislators and county clerks held a news conference to oppose the bill, saying it could increase identity and voter fraud, among other issues.

Supporters have pointed out immigrants living here illegally could get a New York driver’s licenses before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“9/11 happened a long time ago and we still have people driving without licenses who should be part of the system,” Assemb. Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), who initially proposed the bill, said. He said winning support in the Senate is currently “a little of an uphill battle” over a misplaced concern that it would foster terrorism.

With Michael Gormley

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