As top Democratic lawmakers launch a final push for a bill that would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain a Connecticut drivers license, the Republican leader in the House said he is open to the idea.
“I’m very interested in it,” Cafero said of the bill. But, he added, “just like everything else in this place, I have to see the language.”
Cafero met Monday with Rep. Juan Candelaria, the New Haven Democrat who is a leading champion of the idea, along with members of the group Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut.
But before he can fully embrace the measure, Cafero said he’d like to see protections put in place to guard against fraud and abuse. Cafero said people seeking licenses should undergo a background check conducted by the state to ensure they are who they say they are.
Cafero also said the licenses obtained by undocumented immigrants should contain a special notation to make sure they aren’t used to register to vote. And they should have a be valid for a shorter period, perhaps three years, than a conventional license.
Supporters say allowing immigrants without the proper documentation to obtain a license will improve public safety, lower insurance costs, help law enforcement and generate new revenue for the state. Several states, most recently Illinois and Maryland, have enacted similar laws.
The legislature’s transportation committee held a hearing on the concept earlier this year; more than 2,000 people attended. However the idea failed to make it out the committee.
But members of the broad coalition behind the proposal, including Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, religious leaders and mayors, say they aren’t giving up hope that a bill will be passed in the 2013 legislative session, which ends on June 5.
“It is about common sense,” New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien said at a press conference at the Capitol Monday morning.
Undocumented immigrants are already driving in the state, even though they lack training, licenses and insurance. But because they fear being deported, they are more likely to flee after an accident. “It doesn’t make sense for us to have a system of laws that encourage people to leave the scene of a auto accident,” O’Brien said.
In addition to the public safety benefits, Sharkey said the proposal sends a powerful signal that Connecticut embraces its diversity. He pledged to “do everything I can do as speaker” to ensure the bill is passed.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did not attend the press conference but he expressed support for the concept.
The governor said Monday that he wants to make sure all motorists have the skill-set required to drive.