Government

Driving cards for unauthorized immigrants back on legislative agenda

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Indiana lawmakers are ready to take another stab at legislation allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driving training, a non-identification driver’s card and automobile insurance.

The concept earned bipartisan interest and support last week from lawmakers on an interim study committee, as well as an eclectic array of speakers.

“You’re going to see a bill,” said Roads and Transportation Interim Study Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie. “I don’t know what the bill really looks like at this point, but I got a really good idea after four-and-a-half hours of testimony today.”

Indiana has banned its Bureau of Motor Vehicles from issuing driver’s permits and licenses to those who can’t prove citizenship or other legal status since 2007.

Forthcoming legislation would draw from previous attempts like January’s Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1195, which would’ve allowed Hoosiers who lack legal status to apply for “driving record” learner’s permits and driver’s cards. The single-purpose cards wouldn’t have been eligible for use as identification or for voting registration.

Legislation would allow “people that are living here, working here, participating in our economy, an opportunity to drive a vehicle legally,” said HB 1195 author Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo. “They’re driving now. Whether we pass this bill or we don’t pass this bill, they’re going to continue to drive. So we collectively are better served to have a driving record card in place.”

That legislation died after it failed to get a committee hearing. So have previous efforts: Rep. Chris Campbell, D-West Lafayette and author of 2021’s House Bill 1138, said the idea had already been introduced seven times prior.

Details

The forthcoming legislation is already 200 pages long, according to Pressel.

The cards would only be valid in Indiana, unless other states pass reciprocity agreements — 16 and Washington, D.C. have already adopted similar driving card laws.

BMV Legislative Director Abbigail Raben said the agency wants to “work closely” with bill authors, and that it had identified three key elements to a successful program:

• A one-year validity period. Cardholders would have to renew in-person annually to prevent non-Hoosiers from abusing the program, Raben said.

• Non-identification. The cards would include language clearly specifying that they’re not valid for both federal and state identification purposes.

• Security checks. The application process would include a fingerprint criminal background check, which Raben said would “deter fraud.”

Raben said the BMV had asked its vendors for new estimates on implementing such a program, but that a previous estimate was just over $1 million.

An array of supporters  — local government leaders, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defenders, farmers, religious groups, insurance providers and immigrants themselves — testified for more than four hours.

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, a Democrat, delivered a letter of  support signed by 49 other mayors across Indiana: 25 Republicans, 21 Democrats and three independents.

“The federal government is very clear that mayors and state officials — we do not have any say or power when it comes to immigration,” Stutsman read aloud. “However, we are the ones that deal with the reality of what our federal representatives do or don’t do when it comes to immigration. Driver’s cards is not a Republican or a Democrat discussion. This is about how we function as a community and helping to make our roads safer.”

St. Joseph County Sheriff William Redman said it’s difficult to fill out crash reports involving drivers without licenses, and that unlicensed drivers would be less likely to flee the scene of vehicle crashes if they were properly registered to drive. The police department also spends money jailing people accused of driving unlicensed.

“I truly believe this will make our roadways safer and [have] a huge impact on our officers during their investigations of vehicle crashes on Indiana roadways,” Redman said, adding that the additional information would help officers identify those involved in crashes, contact families, and access insurance information for crash investigations.

Insurance support

The insurance industry is also ready to go on drivers cards, said Insurance Institute of Indiana President Marty Wood.

Most related legislation helps identify who’s driving uninsured but doesn’t reduce that number, he said, so the organization doesn’t take a position on it.

“This is not one of them, though,” Wood said. “This is one that I truly believe does have the possibility of helping in the area of the uninsured driving population.”

Automobile insurance companies could see a $68 million boost over the first three years of a driver’s cards program, according to a 2021 study by the University of Notre Dame’s Student Policy Network — with premiums for individual policyholders expected to go down.

Indiana’s conservative Chamber of Commerce also threw its support behind the idea, while cautioning that knowingly hiring a person who’s not authorized to work is illegal.

Meanwhile, immigrant families and advocates told the committee that permission to drive would be life-changing.

One South Bend high schooler told lawmakers he’s a farmworker, working from sunrise to sunset over the summers and skipping school to support his family. Both parents, he said, are undocumented farm workers.

“I am the one taking my parents to their appointments, picking up my brothers and sisters from school or taking them to their appointments and work because they cannot drive,” he said. “I am the one they depend on for any transportation.”

At least one lawmaker expressed reservations.

“I personally struggle with the fact that our roads are going to be safer because that they have a driver’s card now ...,” Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, told one public defender from St. Joseph County. “My question to you, to help me with this, is you’re here supporting a driver’s card for someone who is here illegally. But now you’re trying to do a legal thing for them.”

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