Proposal advances for Indiana driving cards for immigrants

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Indiana lawmakers pushed ahead for the first time on Tuesday a proposal that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain state-issued cards giving them permission to drive.

A state Senate committee voted 5-4 to endorse the bill, a step that comes after similar proposals introduced over the past decade never advanced in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The bill would establish driver privilege cards, which the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles would issue to immigrants who pass the state’s driving test, have paid Indiana taxes in the past year, submitted to a fingerprint background check and provide proof of auto insurance.

Eighteen states, including California, Illinois, New York and Utah, already have approved similar driving cards in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Supporters argue such an Indiana program will improve safety on the roads, reduce the number of uninsured drivers and make it easier for police officers to identify drivers during traffic stops.

Sen. Blake Doriot

Republican Sen. Blake Doriot of Goshen, the bill’s author, called federal immigration policy a “bipartisan screwup” for decades but said immigrants were an important part of the state’s workforce, such as in the recreational vehicle industry, which is a major employer in his northern Indiana district.

The bill would have to win approval from the full state Senate by the end of February in order to advance to the House for consideration during this year’s legislative session.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, state Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Conference of Catholic Bishops and several other law enforcement, business and immigrant advocate groups testified in support of the proposal Tuesday before the Senate’s Homeland Security and Transportation Committee.

Goshen Police Chief Jose Miller said many immigrants were already living in the state without federal legal permission, and such driving cards would reduce the number of people afraid of being arrested over illegal driving who flee from police officers. He said the driving cards would help immigrants who are trying to work and improve the lives of their families.

“It allows them an avenue to learn the laws, contribute to the taxes, contribute to insurance to where it lowers the costs of everybody that is here,” Miller said.

Three committee Republicans joined the panel’s two Democratic senators to advance the proposal, with four Republicans voting against it.

Republican Sen. Jim Buck of Kokomo voted against the proposal after saying he was bothered by the state giving driving privileges to people who were not following federal immigration laws.

“As sympathetic as many of us are, that is a hard hill to climb over,” Buck said.

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