Bill expanding driver’s license program for undocumented Coloradans passes the House and dies in the Senate

June 7, 2016
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shutterstock_29148268Getting a driver’s license is a cornerstone of American culture and has long been seen as a rite of passage into adulthood for teens. However, for families, a license is more than just a rite of passage; it is a necessity.

A driver’s license gives individuals the ability to take care of essential daily needs, making it possible for people to get to work, obtain health care, buy groceries and access child care when public transit is not enough. Yet, for the handful of Colorado immigrants who have uncertain status, a driver’s license remains out of reach.

Legislators and advocates have worked for years to provide and improve access to licenses for undocumented Coloradans, but the changes have been incremental, and access continues to be restricted. In 2013, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 251, making Colorado one of 12 states to offer licenses to those with uncertain immigration status. However, the scope of the driver’s license program in Colorado is very narrow, wherein only five DMV offices have the authority to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants and additional funding must be appropriated every year to keep the limited number of offices open, even though the program is self-funded.

In 2015, the Joint Budget Committee further restricted the program, reducing the number of offices that could issue the licenses to three DMV offices and then to one when a cap of 60,000 appointments is reached. The 60,000 appointments cap assumes a 30 percent participation rate by those who would qualify, even though the participation rate was well above 70 percent in the year prior. This year, the cap is expected to be reached by the end of the summer, leaving many waiting and unable to get driver’s licenses.

In 2016, for a third year in a row, legislators and advocates came together under the gold dome to make the program more accessible. House Bill 16-1274 proposed an expansion of the SB 13-251 driver’s license program by opening new kiosks at three more DMV offices, bringing the total number of offices that offer the licenses to six. The bill also removed the cap on the number of appointments that can be made in a given year.

These are important changes, because we know that giving unauthorized immigrants access to driver’s licenses makes our roads safer and brings down the cost of driving for all. Without a driver’s license, it becomes nearly impossible to get insurance, and studies show this could have costly implications for all drivers. Researchers found that when access to licenses is restricted for undocumented immigrants, the cost of insuring other drivers increases by an average of $17.22 a year. That is nearly $69 million a year for all Colorado drivers.

The study also found that the presence of undocumented drivers in the insurance pool does not have a negative effect on insurance costs, dispelling the misguided notion that undocumented drivers are somehow unsafe drivers.

House Bill 1274 passed committee and floor debates in the House of Representatives this year and moved to the Senate State Affairs committee, where it was killed.

However, just because this legislative session has come to a close does not mean this discussion should: Colorado needs a driver’s license program that is accessible for all because it’s good for our communities and our economy.

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