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Republicans split over proposed driver privilege bill

Illegal immigrants living in Nevada would be able to legally drive in Nevada under a proposed bill by state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis.

The primary reason behind the legislation is to make roads safer while boosting revenues by charging at least $25 per card, the Las Vegas Democrat said at a news conference at the Latin Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Attorneys are in the midst of refining the wording in the bill, but the bottom line is that the holders of the driver privilege card would have to take driving tests, pass driving tests, and, like everyone else, buy insurance – three things they can’t do in the absence of such a law, said Denis, a member of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.

But Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly are divided on the matter, with some dismissing it and others saying they first want to read the fine print on the bill, which will be considered at next year’s legislative session.

“I certainly support it in concept,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. “But they’d have to prove they’ve lived here for at least six months. I don’t want us turning into a New Mexico, where people were flying in from all over the world to get a driver’s license, then flying out.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, in a statement to the Review-Journal last week, said he thinks Nevada should focus on revitalizing Nevada’s economy and let the federal government deal with immigration.

“Our State Legislature should focus itself on helping revive Nevada’s struggling economy and not trying to cobble together piecemeal solutions to a national problem,” Hickey wrote.

And so the controversial debate has begun over how to resolve the daily problem of driving among the tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the Silver State illegally.

It’s a touchy subject because many view such a card as a benefit – a privilege unduly given to somebody who is currently breaking the law by virtue of living and working in Nevada.

But Denis said many go ahead and break the law anyway, which causes a whole host of problems, including throngs of uninsured motorists on the road.

He pointed out that the card would not be a driver’s license, nor would it be recognized as a form of identity. Instead it would give holders permission to drive in the state for up to a year, at which time it would have to be renewed.

The law would be patterned after a Utah law that was passed in the summer of 2005.

Jill Laws, deputy director of the Driver License Program in Utah, said the law has been a success. It has helped raise millions of dollars in that state, and the estimated 40,000 residents who apply for the card each year then take out insurance on their vehicles.

A study conducted a year after the law passed showed that 75 percent of those with driver privilege cards bought insurance in Utah, only slightly lower than the 81 percent of residents with regular driver’s licenses, Laws said.

“That’s a remarkable statistic,” she said. “The only advice I’d give to the state of Nevada is to make sure the people know what the law is all about. Make sure to tell them what they will need to get the card. I can’t tell you how much bad information or misinformation can get out, and that can lead to all sorts of problems.”

As in Utah, applicants would have to prove they have lived in Nevada for at least six months, and they must have a tax identification number or Social Security number, said Democratic state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, also a member of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.

His District 20 includes the Strip, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and parts of east Las Vegas.

“It’s not only about security and safer roads,” Kihuen said, “This is an economic stimulus for the state. There are some people who are undocumented, and they don’t buy cars because they can’t drive. This will change all that. This will help business.”

Until then, there will be those who feel they have no choice but to get behind the wheel to get to work and school.

“I take the bus, personally,” said Rafael Lopez, 23, a student who says he is a Dreamer. “But I have friends who go out and risk it.”

Many young undocumented immigrants call themselves Dreamers because they would be eligible for legal status under a bill, stalled in Congress, called the Dream Act.

In Arizona, being pulled over for a broken tail light and not having proper form of ID or proof of U.S. citizenship can lead to deportation.

In Nevada, the situation isn’t as dire, according to Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Bill Cassell, who said motorists who are stopped without driver’s licenses are usually cited but never deported because it’s not the purview of police officers to ask about immigration status.

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