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Government & Politics

Driver's License Bill Passes California Legislature

California's State Capitol Building
Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics

Undocumented immigrants in California will soon be able to get driver’s licenses after the legislature approved a bill on the final day of session. But, as Katie Orr reports from Sacramento, concerns over what the licenses would look like nearly derailed the effort.

In order for California to comply with federal law, licenses for undocumented immigrants must have a mark that distinguishes them from typical driver’s licenses. The bill pending in the legislature was amended to reflect that.  But that amendment angered labor groups, and, with one day left in the session the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, announced he would hold it until next year. 

"I’m just exercising my due diligence by taking a few more months so that we can get it in the best shape possible as build some more consensus and, in the early part of next year, hopefully get that signature from Governor Jerry Brown," said Alejo.

But the bill had been in the works for more than a decade. And senators with the Latino Caucus were not going to miss their chance to finally pass it. Democratic Senator Kevin de Leon says he spoke with Governor Jerry Brown earlier in the week and Brown told him to send him a bill. 

“We believed very strongly in the Senate that we needed a bill today, and not tomorrow. So we collectively forced a question in the Senate and we moved it forward," said de Leon.

The Senate’s refusal to drop the bill led to a flurry of negotiations and the unions were reassured the mark would be discreet. Alejo eventually presented the measure on the Assembly floor where it passed its final vote. He says the law stacks up well compared to other states.

Ours is the most discreet. Ours is the only one that has non-discrimination provisions protecting immigrants. And so I think we’re leading the way and making sure we do this right," says Alejo.

Shortly after the bill passed the governor issued a statement saying it will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally. 

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