ALBANY — Democrats successfully pushed a bill through the state Assembly Wednesday that would allow people in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.
But it remains unclear whether the Senate will as well, despite also being controlled by Democrats. The bill is stalled in that chamber, in part because no Long Island lawmaker supports it.
After a lengthy and heated debate, the Assembly ratified the bill, 87-61, triggering a roar of applause from supporters in the balcony above the chamber floor. It marked the first time either house of the State Legislature approved the “driver’s licenses for all” bill after more than a decade of debate in Albany.
Supporters made impassioned speeches on the Assembly floor, contending immigrants here illegally drive already and the legislation will make the roads safer. They say it will help ensure such drivers get insurance and reduce hit-and-run accidents. They say it also will help the economy by ensuring people have a way to get to work.
But beyond the nuts-and-bolts questions about driver registrations, local motor vehicle departments and information sharing with other agencies, the most heat in the debate centered on whether the population at issue deserve to be eligible for driver’s licenses.
“We know what it’s about is the people we’re giving driver’s licenses to,” Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said. “Just say it. I would respect it more. They just don’t want to give anything to this segment of people … who have been demonized and used politically to garner votes.”
Assemb. Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx) said: “I think it’s mean to not allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.”
Opponents said the bill showed “blatant” disregard for the law and taxpayers.
“State Democrats have chosen to waste our time granting driving privileges to illegal immigrants,” Assemb. Joseph DeStefano (R-Medford) said in a statement. “Democrats want New York to lead the way on social reform and immigration issues, when in reality New York is leading the way on the highest taxes in the nation, out-migration and the worst business climate. If we continue down this path, the only people left in the state will be those that benefit from this agenda — illegal immigrants.”
Assemb. Michael LiPetri (R-Massapequa) called it an “ugly day in Albany.”
“Assembly Democrats are sending the message that breaking the law should be met with leniency and reward, rather than consequence and punishment — a disturbing precedent to set,” LiPetri said.
Voting was cast largely along party lines, although more than a dozen Democrats opposed the bill. Those included Assemb. Anthony D’Urso (D-Port Washington), Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre) and Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights).
For some activists, it marked a milestone in the fight that began when then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer made driver’s licenses for those in the country illegally a goal in 2007. It wasn’t popular then and still remains opposed (53 percent to 41 percent statewide) by most voters surveyed by Siena College in a recent poll.
The New York Immigrant Coalition called on the Democratic-led Senate to allow a vote on the bill. But Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signaled this week that no decision has been made.
In the Senate, the bill needs 32 votes to win approval. So far, 24 Democrats have signed on to support it, 16 have not. None of the six Long Island Democrats voiced support and, just last week, State Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said voting for the bill could result in Democratic losses on the Island in 2020.