- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are trying to make it easier for people living in the state illegally, homeless individuals and vulnerable populations to get driver’s licenses.

A bill to enable those living in Hawaii illegally to obtain a driver’s license was introduced in response to the federal REAL ID Act, which requires proof of lawful residence in the United States to obtain a license. The bill applies to anyone who doesn’t have proper identification, including victims of domestic violence or natural disasters who may have lost important documents while fleeing their homes.

“Nobody should have to go to jail because they’re taking their kids to school or going to the doctor with their family,” said Jenny Lee, staff attorney for Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, which pushed the legislation. “It’s an incredibly important statement for Hawaii to show that we do welcome these members of our community.”

The bill was approved by the full Legislature Tuesday and now goes to Gov. David Ige. Advocates say if Ige signs the bill, Hawaii would be the 12th state in the nation to approve driver’s licenses for people living within their borders illegally.

Another pending bill would help homeless people obtain or replace licenses, which can prove difficult for those without a home address. Having proper identification is critical for getting a job or housing, but identification cards or papers are often lost in moves or are taken during police sweeps of homeless encampments.

The bill, SB 273, would allow homeless people to present a sworn statement from a clergy member, service provider or other representative as proof of residence.

“If we’re trying to give them at least a hand up, this would be a critical bill that would help them regain permanent housing and employment opportunities,” said Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, a Honolulu Democrat.

As part of the bill, lawmakers are considering instructing the Department of Transportation to waive fees charged to homeless people for issuing, renewing or replacing a license.

“That would remove a big hurdle for people,” said Scott Morishige, executive director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit organization. “If you’re living off $100 or $300 a month, it’s a big deal.”

But some are concerned that keeping the fee waiver in the bill may prevent its passage in a tight budget year. That bill must be passed out of conference committee this week in order to survive.

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