State Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) plans to introduce a bill to the House that will strengthen a thus-far ineffective driver’s license program for immigrant residents of Colorado.
The new legislation comes three years after the passage of SB 251, the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, which created a self-funded program to provide driver’s licenses and ID cards for any Coloradan who has temporary status or is undocumented.
According to research by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, there are 168,400 immigrants who are ineligible for a driver’s license in Colorado, and without a license these Coloradans are also ineligible for insurance. About 16 percent of all Colorado drivers are uninsured, and around one-quarter of those uninsured motorists are unlicensed immigrants.
Rep. Singer says SB 251 was passed to “pull immigrants out of the shadows and get them to learn the rules of the road that would make everyone safer.”
But the bill was all but shut down in 2015 when the Republican-led Joint Budget Committee denied spending authority on more than $166,000 in fees collected from immigrants seeking licenses.
“Because of politics we now have a pot of money sitting out there, and we have immigrants waiting months if not years to get a driver’s license, and in the meantime the whole public is put at risk,” Singer says.
The fees were meant to expand the number of Department of Motor Vehicle offices offering SB 251 licenses and IDs from five to 15. Without available funds, the Department of Revenue actually reduced the number of offices to three, in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. These offices offer 93 appointments each day.
“Ultimately, what you see now is additional illegal activity, where people are taking up spots to go to the DMV to get their driver’s license and then are basically acting as ticket scalpers, trying to sell these spots online to people, which is horrid,” Singer says. “Instead of pulling people out of the shadows and increasing legal activity, this defunding is actually increasing illegal activity.”
The new legislation will authorize spending on the program, but will also remove caps on the number of appointments DMVs can offer each day. In addition, the bill would allow immigrants to use either a Social Security or Taxpayer ID number as proof of tax payment.
New Mexico and Utah have had success implementing legislation that provides licenses to undocumented immigrants. New Mexico, which began issuing such licenses in 2003, saw the rate of uninsured vehicles decrease almost 24 percent between 2002 and 2011. Utah’s Driving Privilege Cards decreased the state’s uninsured motorists to only 8 percent.
The Colorado Fiscal Institute estimates that as newly licensed immigrants register vehicles, Colorado could see between $5.3 and $6.9 million in new revenue. State auto insurance companies could see an additional $113.1 million annually.
Singer says that the new legislation simply fulfills the promise of an effective government.
“Even people who are upset with the idea [of issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants] understand that we can’t solve immigration reform in Colorado, but we can do things to build better trust in the community and actually create public safety for immigrants and nonimmigrants alike.”