ALBANY – One of the most contentious issues of the legislative session gained some unexpected support Wednesday that could help lead to issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The bill was amended Wednesday to satisfy some concerns by law enforcement officials, including the New York City Police Department which had been a key obstacle to getting some legislators’ support, said the sponsors, Assmb. Marco Crespo (D-Bronx) and Sen. Luis R. Sepúlveda (D-Bronx).
Additionally, the New York State Business Council endorsed the initiative.
“We are supporting this bill because it sends a signal to Washington that comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary business issue, and because it’s the right and decent thing to do,” Heather C. Briccetti, president of the state Business Council, said. “It is an opportunity to support billions in annual economic activity, and state and local tax collections, driven by hardworking undocumented families around the state.”
The legislation, named Green Light by its supporters, would allow an estimated 265,000 people statewide to obtain driver’s licenses. Supporters say most these people are already driving, but illegally and often without auto insurance. The bill would require the drivers to pass a safety course and to obtain insurance, making the roads safer, according to supporters of the bill.
For years, the Republican-controlled state Senate blocked the proposal. Even though Democrats now control both houses in Albany, the legislation so far has failed to muster enough support in the Legislature for passage and the June 19 scheduled end of the session is drawning near.
A March poll by Siena College found 61 percent of voters opposed the bill. The greatest opposition was from downstate suburbs including Long Island, upstate, voters not enrolled in a political party and Republicans. There was strong support among liberals and African American and Latino voters.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the Business Council endorsement is critical.
“There are not a lot of times the Business Council is on the same page with the Assembly,” said Heastie (D-Bronx). “But I do think when you look at it from the economic development standpoint, the safety standpoint, and just the ability for people to get to work – they are all elements for why it is good to give driver’s licenses. We just want the public campaign to continue before we bring it to the floor.”