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News >  ID Government

Senate creates interim committee to discuss driving authority for undocumented Idahoans

April 9, 2021 Updated Fri., April 9, 2021 at 11:19 p.m.

By Rachel Spacek Idaho Press

BOISE — With bipartisan support, the Idaho Senate passed a resolution to create an interim committee to study driving authorization for undocumented Idahoans. The resolution was sent to the House of Representatives.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, sponsored the resolution, following the failure of his bill that would have given driving authority to Idahoans regardless of immigration status earlier this session. His bill stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee.

“This is a complex, politically charged issue and even though we have worked on it for several sessions, more understanding is a good thing in considering a policy decision like this in a future session,” Guthrie said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Twenty-eight Senators supported the creation of the committee and seven voted against the resolution.

Democratic and Republican Senators alike spoke about the need to look at the road safety and vehicle insurance when it comes to Idaho’s undocumented population.

“Driving can be a hazard to the health of our citizens and when someone hits them and doesn’t have insurance, our citizens are left without compensation,” said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. “There is problem with having any kind of card issued by the state that could be used for purposes that we don’t want (undocumented) people engaging in, like voting, but we need to take a look at mitigating damage against our citizens for unlicensed drivers who often flee the accidents.”

Issuing a driving authorization card to undocumented Idahoans would help address the insecurity of the agriculture workforce, that is comprised of 40% undocumented workers, Guthrie said.

Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Affairs committee and shared a story of a friend of his who is undocumented from Mexico with two children and a wife in the U.S. Burtenshaw said his friend would have to spend 10 years away from his family as part of the process to become a legal permanent resident of the U.S.

“What young man that has two children and one on the way would go back to Mexico for 10 years?” Burtenshaw said. “He is a contributing citizen and he pays taxes, he works, he is honest and his wife is an American. Yet he can’t drive on the road. His choice is to go back to Mexico for 10 years.”

A driver’s authorization card would give undocumented drivers necessary identification to drive on Idaho’s roads, he said.

“We have demonized them and the vast majority are good people who work really hard and are in agriculture jobs that none of you would take,” Burtenshaw said.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise and Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, also spoke in support of the committee.

There was some opposition to the resolution. Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he didn’t understand why the Legislature would give a legal document to people who are in the country illegally.

Senate Bill 1132, was stalled in committee earlier in the session, would have allow anyone, not just undocumented Idahoans to apply for the driver’s authorization cards. Guthrie said it would have allowed people who did not want to get a traditional driver’s license to apply or international students or anyone regardless of their immigration status. The idea was that the driver’s authorization card would be available to people with proof of Idaho residency and proof of person.

A report from the Idaho Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations, distributed this session, found driver’s authorization cards issued in other states helped improve employment among undocumented residents and reduced the severity of accidents they are involved in.

Sixteen states, including Nevada, Utah, Washington and most recently Oregon, offer driving credentials to immigrants without documentation of legal permanent residence.

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