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Oregon House OKs Bill Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Individuals

Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Thursday, April 11, 2019.
Bradley W. Parks
Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Thursday, April 11, 2019.

A bill to grant undocumented individuals the right to an Oregon driver’s license is on its way to the state Senate.

The Access To Roads Act passed the Oregon House 39-21 Tuesday, despite an effort to move the bill to the House Rules Committee to have the emergency clause removed.

The emergency clause allows legislators to pass a bill into law without referring the issue to voters.

In 2014, Oregonians voted against giving driver’s license privileges to people without proper U.S. government documentation. Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, said this session’s vote troubled him because of its similarities to what happened five years ago.

“I am standing to say that House Bill 2015 has a very serious flaw that could be corrected,” he said.

In 2013, legislators voted in favor of creating a new driver’s card for people who could not prove legal residency; it passed the Senate by a 20-7 vote and the House 38-20. Because it did not have an emergency clause attached, that legislation was later referred to the November 2014 ballot. Sixty-six percent of Oregonians voted against creating the driver’s card. During Tuesday’s debate, Post read the outcome of votes for each county.

"Opponents will tell you that voters overturned this already. That is simply just not true,” said Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, a chief sponsor of this year's effort said in response to Post’s demand that voters get a chance to weigh in.

He said the new license HB 2015 would create is different than what Oregonians ruled on in 2014: “Voters overturned a Real ID non-compliant driver’s card that created a third-tiered system that would have been easy to distinguish who is undocumented and who was not.”

Oregon introduced a two-tier driver’s license system in response to the federal government’s Real ID program. The Real ID, a more stringent form of identification, will soon be required to fly or enter federal government buildings. House Bill 2015 would allow people to get a standard Class C driver’s license without showing proof of citizenship — not a Real ID-compliant form of identification.

Getting a Real ID-compliant license will require showing proof of citizenship, something that can be hard for undocumented Oregonians but also for other people who may have lost basic documents such as their birth certificate.

“Many people are impacted by strict requirements of the Real ID Act, including the elderly, domestic violence survivors, immigrants, houseless individuals, victims of natural disasters and low-income Oregonians,” Hernandez said.

Advocates of HB 2015 say allowing access to driver’s licenses without proof of residency  will make the roads safer and life easier for both immigrant communities and non-immigrants.

The bill now moves on to the Senate.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Erica Morrison