Alarmed by the fact that seven of the 19 terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on September 11 were carrying Virginia ID cards even though they didn’t live in the state, many members of the General Assembly are supporting legislation that would change the state’s absurdly liberal standards for obtaining driver’s licenses. The current law permits foreign nationals to renew their licenses without proving that they are here legally. The lion’s share of the blame lies with Gov. Mark Warner, who has raised relatively trivial complaints about the legislation. The good news is that, even though the Warner administration has decided not to participate, the House and Senate have risen to the occasion.
Despite intense opposition from immigrant-rights organizations and Hispanic activists (increasingly prominent constituencies for Mr. Warner’s embattled Democratic Party), the House of Delegates voted 80-20 last week in favor of legislation sponsored by Delegate David Albo, Fairfax County Republican, which would require that foreign nationals present such documents as a license or permanent-residency card when they apply for or renew their Virginia driver’s licenses. In the Senate, Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax Republican, has fought hard for a similar bill, which could come up for floor debate next week. In an effort to make the measure palatable to the governor, Mr. O’Brien has reluctantly agreed to postpone implementation of his own bill until July 1, 2005.
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Warner, told The Washington Times yesterday that the governor’s main problem with the O’Brien-Albo legislation is his belief that Virginia should not act on its own, but should instead wait until the National Governors Association comes forward with its own proposal, something that could happen as early as next month.
While all of this has been taking place, the Warner administration has sent DMV bureaucrats to tell legislators that the measure would cost too much. In December, the administration claimed that the legislation would cost about $1 million to implement. Now, however, DMV puts the price tag at $5.6 million a year. Even assuming that the latter figure is true (a point Mr. O’Brien sharply questions), it is ridiculous to say that the money can’t be found in the $20 billion annual state budget.
Meanwhile, over in Maryland, where illegal aliens cannot obtain driver’s licenses, a group of Prince George’s County politicians led by State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, County Executive Jack Johnson and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Joseph Vallario, are working with Hispanic groups to make it possible for illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses. But a spokesman for Gov. Robert Ehrlich yesterday said the governor is opposed to the idea.
Mr. Warner would do well to follow the example of Mr. Ehrlich and responsible Virginia politicians from both parties by making it clear that driver’s licenses should only be granted to people who are in the United States legally.