Colorado House endorses immigrant driver license expansion
DENVER — A bill to allow more Colorado residents who are in the country illegally to apply for drivers licenses is one step from clearing the Legislature after a House vote on Wednesday.
The bill would increase from three to 10 the number of Department of Motor Vehicles offices offering special drivers licenses to those residents. Colorado began issuing the licenses in 2014 under a program funded entirely by fees paid by applicants. More than 61,000 licenses have been issued since then.
The House tentatively approved the bill Wednesday. Another vote sends it to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who is expected to sign it.
The small number of DMV offices offering the licenses — in Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and suburban Lakewood — has produced months-long wait times for applicants and forced agricultural and construction workers to take time off work to drive hundreds of miles to obtain or renew the documents.
Witnesses have testified about scams in which DMV appointment times were being sold for as much as $1,000.
Several efforts were made in recent years to address those problems by expanding the program, which is supported by Colorado’s $8 billion agriculture industry and construction firms, both of which depend on licensed employees to legally operate motor vehicles and machinery.
A Senate Republican majority killed past efforts. Democrats won control of both legislative chambers in November, and the Senate has passed the 2019 bill.
This year’s effort was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Don Coram, who represents rural southwest Colorado, as well as Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno and Reps. Rochelle Galindo and Jonathan Singer.
Several House Republicans urged “no” votes Wednesday, including Rep. Larry Liston, who referred to “illegals” in arguing — erroneously — that applicants can use the documents to register to vote. They cannot.
Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton said it was “completely out of order” to turn debate on the bill to a discussion on immigration.
Reps. Leslie Herod and Adrienne Benavidez went further. Herod declared that “the term ‘illegal’ is very offensive to people. It’s like calling people of color the ‘n’ word.”
Said Benavidez: “You may not think it’s offensive, but I do.”AlertMe