Davis Urged to Help Revive Drivers Bill


A legislator from Los Angeles is turning to Gov. Gray Davis for help in resurrecting a defeated bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a California driver's license.

On Tuesday a state Senate committee defeated legislation by freshman Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Democrat, that would have repealed a 1994 law requiring first-time driver's license applicants to prove that they are in this country legally. Cedillo said he will amend his bill so it applies only to immigrants who are in this country legally while their status is being determined.

He said the amendments would apply to immigrants who had fled their native countries because of political upheavals or natural disasters, but whose residence in the United States is pending an administrative or judicial ruling.

"They are here legally . . . but they are not legal residents," Cedillo said Wednesday. "They are not deportable. But they can't drive legally.'

Cedillo said he didn't know how many immigrants are in this category, but said the numbers are significant.

The bill, which had easily passed the Assembly, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a 6-6 vote. But the committee agreed to reconsider its action at a hearing next month.

Later, Cedillo met privately with Davis' chief political counsel, Garry South, and was told the governor would not sign the bill in its current form, even if the Legislature approved it, sources said.

Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante refused to discuss what, if any, amendments the governor might support. But Cedillo, one of Davis' earliest supporters in last year's election, said he will continue to discuss the issue with Davis.

"I want a bill that is signed. Where it ends up will be the product of guidance from the governor's office," Cedillo said in an interview on Wednesday.

A similar measure, SB 371, by Sen. Hilda Solis (D-La Puente) has already passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly. It would retain the need for proof of an applicant's legal status. But rather than subject such documents to automatic verification as currently required, it would do so only if the papers appeared fraudulent.

Cedillo conceded that illegal immigrants might seek to take advantage of his plan by posing as refugees, but said existing federal and state processes would identify and weed them out.

In addition to showing proof of legal residence, first-time applicants must also provide a Social Security or taxpayer identification number.

Originally, the Cedillo bill would have repealed not only the proof of residence provision, but the Social Security and tax identification requirements as well.

Cedillo said the state Department of Motor Vehicles should return to its primary mission of assuring safety on the highways and get out of the business of enforcing immigration laws.

Senate committee members made it clear they wanted no part of repealing the Social Security number requirement.

Cedillo insisted his bill was intended as a public safety reform because making it easier for undocumented immigrants to seek a license would result in improved highway safety and more insured motorists.

"I'm trying to spread the net as wide as possible so they know the rules of the highway and purchase insurance," Cedillo told the committee.

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