Expanding Road Rules

Legislature considers driver’s licenses for all in current session

State Sen. James Manning, Jr. says he has his Panamanian driver’s license on him. 

It doesn’t give him any entitlements or benefits of a Panamanian citizen. 

“It only meant that I understood the rules of the roads, I took the exam, I was permitted to purchase insurance,” he tells Eugene Weekly. “Therefore, I had the privilege of driving in that country.”

As a co-chief sponsor of House Bill 2015, also known as the “Equal Access to Roads Act,” Manning, who represents parts of Eugene and Junction City, wants to extend the privilege of driving to all. He says it’s about safety. Advocates for undocumented immigrants say it’s a necessary tool for living and working in Oregon.

Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) are upset about the legislation. 

If HB 2015 becomes law, it would eliminate the requirement to provide legal documentation, such as passport or birth certificate and a Social Security number, when applying for a driver’s license or identification card. 

Oregon’s Automatic Voter Registration registers voters when applying for a driver’s license or identification card. Applicants without citizenship documents would not have their data sent to the Elections Division to start the voter registration process, an Oregon Department of Transportation official told the Joint Committee on Transportation April 17.

If passed, Oregon would join 12 other U.S. states that issue driver’s licenses to those who are unable to prove legal residence. 

 “We’ve been waiting for this for four years since Measure 88,” says Yomaira Tarula, a political director at the University of Oregon’s chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA). 

In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill allowing four-year driver’s licenses for those who don’t have proof of legal presence in the U.S. In 2014, Measure 88 referred the legislation to voters. Voters shot it down 66-34 percent in that year’s midterm election. 

Tarula visited Salem May 1 for a Causa May Day rally at the Capitol. Causa is a Latino immigrants rights group. She says — out of all the May Day rallies she’s attended — the most showed up this year to support HB 2015.  

“I definitely think it would ease parents driving their kids to school, going grocery shopping,” she says. “The little things that you don’t think about that for other people pose a risk.” 

Tarula says she has a lot of family members who drive without a license. She has a family member who has a cleaning business. However, because she’s undocumented, she limits her business to a 40-mile radius.

“The further you drive, the more you’re at risk,” she adds. 

In 2014, California passed Assembly Bill 60, which allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for a commercial driver’s license. A 2017 study by Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab suggests the bill improved traffic safety by reducing the number of hit-and-runs by 7 percent in the year following the bill’s passage. 

The report examined traffic crashes in California cities with large numbers of undocumented immigrants.  

Tarula says this could be because undocumented immigrants there don’t have the fear of facing immediate deportation due to driving without a license. 

HB 2015 is currently in committee and will be in work session May 22. The legislative session ends June 30, but Manning is hopeful HB 2015 will pass. 

Jim Ludwick, communications director at OFIR, says legislators are betraying the will of voters, and they are helping employers who are hiring undocumented immigrants. 

“The voters already said once,” he says. “Why don’t they send it back for a referral?” 

OFIR is a designated hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center because of its anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

Ludwick says he isn’t optimistic that, if this bill passes, it would be referred to voters, though, if he ran Salem, it would be. For a bill to be referred to voters, it requires getting 74,680 signatures. 

To obtain a driver’s license, you have to undergo a vision, driving and written test. The bill will allow people living in Oregon and those from out of the country to understand the rules of the road and pay for insurance, Manning says. 

“This is a safety issue,” he says. “When people can drive with the proper training and have a driver’s license, it makes it easier for everyone.” He adds law enforcement can also identify people easier.  

According to testimony from the Oregon ACLU’s policy director, Kimberly McCullough, the bill not only increases access to driving privileges in Oregon, but it would benefit citizens, too. 

People who lack birth certificates and passports could apply for a driver’s license, she told the transportation committee April 17. 

Manning is a co-chief sponsor along with state Rep. Diego Hernandez of Portland. He says he works with Hernandez on a number of bills with civil rights in terms of how to level the playing field.   

“I’m working on things on how low-income people can achieve their slice of the American dream,” he says. “Criminal justice, social justice reforms is necessary. It’s unfortunate we are drifting backwards instead of moving forward.”