- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is working with state Democrats to revamp a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, a politically fractious issue that contributed to the ousting of his predecessor.

Three months after securing a repeal of Senate Bill 60, the highly criticized bill approved by former Gov. Gray Davis, Mr. Schwarzenegger is working to craft substitute legislation, which would address national security concerns and ensure that drivers carry insurance, with Democratic state Sen. Gil Cedillo.

“Our staffs have met, and they’re working on this together,” said Vincent Salido, spokesman for the Republican governor.

Mr. Schwarzenegger signaled support for new legislation at a luncheon in January in Sacramento, when he said he was “absolutely positive we’ll come up with a great bill” to replace SB 60, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper.

Many Republicans are dismayed by the governor’s enthusiasm for the idea. Mr. Davis’ support for SB 60 led to a public outcry and was seen as a catalyst in the successful campaign in the summer to recall him from office.

“The budget deficit was big, but people weren’t as angry about that as they were about giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens,” said Ron Prince, who is gathering signatures for Save Our State, a ballot measure to ban state services for illegal immigrants.

Indeed, Mr. Schwarzenegger rode the issue during his campaign for governor by vowing to repeal the law, calling it a “pre-election special” designed by Mr. Davis to win Hispanic votes. The Legislature withdrew the law shortly after Mr. Schwarzenegger took office in November, and he signed the repeal Dec. 3.

At the same time, Mr. Schwarzenegger said several times during the campaign that he would be willing to revisit the idea. His assurances that he would consider another proposal that took into account his concerns, including the terrorism threat, helped persuade the heavily Democratic Legislature to repeal SB 60, Mr. Cedillo’s chief of staff, Dan Savage, said.

Mr. Savage said that after at least two “face-to-face meetings,” the governor and Mr. Cedillo have agreed that driver’s licenses for undocumented workers should look exactly like other licenses.

“Before, there was discussion that the licenses should look different in some way,” Mr. Savage said. “We didn’t want that, because it would be akin to having a scarlet letter that could alert police [and others] to their status. So the governor had the same feeling and said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’”

Mr. Cedillo has introduced a “spot” bill, SB 1160, that effectively holds a place for the final version.

Republican Assemblyman John Benoit predicted that winning Republican support for such a bill won’t be easy.

“[Mr. Schwarzenegger] is going to have a very difficult time getting Republican support for a bill that gives a legal document to an illegal immigrant,” Mr. Benoit said.

Those who support driver’s licenses for illegals argue that the issue boils down to public safety. Illegal immigrants are going to drive no matter what, and allowing them to apply for licenses will ensure that they learn the rules of the road and acquire insurance.

In California, applicants must have a Social Security number or proof of legal residence to receive a driver’s license. Mr. Savage noted that a dozen states have no requirement forbidding illegal immigrants from obtaining licenses.

“With the jobs and hours these folks work, they really don’t have a choice but to drive,” Mr. Savage said. “And I think they want to comply with the law where they can.”

Opponents insist that there’s a more insidious reason behind the idea: to flood the voter rolls with illegal aliens, most of whom may vote Democratic. Under the “Motor Voter” law, new drivers automatically receive voter-registration forms in the mail, and a license is all the identification they need to vote in California.

“I don’t see how you could give out licenses to illegal aliens and then stop them from voting,” said Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly. “This is bad public policy, and it’ll be a bad political mistake if he signs it. And it would be bad for any Republican who votes for it.”

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