CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law Friday a bill that allows people in the country illegally to legally drive in Nevada starting in January.
Sandoval, the state’s first Hispanic governor, signed Senate Bill 303 in his Capitol office in front of a crowd that included the all-Democratic legislative Hispanic caucus. Every Democrat in the Legislature and 15 of the 25 Republicans voted for the bill.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and others maintained the bill is a safety measure for all Nevadans, not a special break for people in the country illegally.
To get a driver’s authorization card, people in the country illegally must pass the Department of Motor Vehicles’ driving test, pay an annual fee and acquire liability insurance on their vehicles.
Since many of them would drive anyway, the thought is the law will lead to safer roads.
“This is not about politics,” said Sandoval about his signing the bill. “This is about making roads safer. The driver privilege cards will allow someone to drive, but not to be used for identification purposes. This is good for everybody.”
He would not speak directly on whether his signing might be a political liability to him among some members of the Republican Party.
Assembly and Senate Republican leaders Pat Hickey and Michael Roberson stood with the Democrats. They had supported the bill and Sandoval congratulated everyone for their bipartisan cooperation.
“This is not just for the Latino community, but for all of Nevada,” said Hickey of Reno.
Sandoval called the bill the “driver privilege card,” although legislators changed it to “driver authorization card” during hearings.
Denis briefly choked up during the signing ceremony, saying he had thought the day might never come in his lifetime.
In response to questions, Denis said Hispanic legislators will get the word out to undocumented residents about the availability of the driving card.
“They trust us,” added Denis, who expects 60,000 cards will be issued in the first year. “People are driving anyway. This makes our roads safer. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Many Hispanic reporters and supporters turned out for the ceremony.
Sen. Ruben Kihuen, a Mexican native, addressed them in Spanish, although Sandoval and Denis only spoke in English.
“Si se puede,” said Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, using the “Yes I Can” rallying cry of the late United Farm Worker head Cesar Chavez.
Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, said that without the support of Sandoval and the Republican leaders, the bill never would have become law.
Nevada’s law is patterned after a Utah law, in effect since 2005. Its chief sponsor, Utah state Sen. Curt Bramble, twice visited the Nevada Legislature to give his support for the bill. Denis met Bramble through the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bramble emphasized in hearings that the federal government has failed miserably in controlling illegal immigration and that the driver authorization cards are a step states can take to ensure safer roads.
Five states now have laws to permit unauthorized residents to drive.
Before the law goes into effect, the DMV must adopt many regulations. The agency is expected to hire about 14 new people, but the costs of the new cards will be more than offset by the expected $22 cost that drivers pay for the cards.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.