Governor Deval Patrick on Friday vetoed a bill designed to keep illegal immigrants from registering motor vehicles in Massachusetts and signed another measure aimed at preventing welfare fraud, though he warned it may not be enforceable.
Patrick acted on both hot-button bills just before 5 p.m., when the State House was all but empty and residents were heading into the weekend.
The bill Patrick vetoed would have required the Registry of Motor Vehicles to obtain “proof of legal residence” from anyone registering a car in Massachusetts.
Lawmakers pushed the measure in response to the outcry following several fatal auto accidents caused by drivers who were in the country illegally.
In his veto message, Patrick argued that the measure would force the Registry to “identify and police undocumented people,” even though he said that is the duty of the federal government, not states.
The recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of Arizona’s tough immigration law “underscores the importance of states treading lightly in the enforcement of federal immigration rules,” the governor wrote.
Patrick also argued that it is hard to understand how a “nonresident” simply owning a vehicle in Massachusetts jeopardizes public safety. Indeed, he said it would improve public safety if the Registry keeps a record of every car, regardless of the owner’s residency status.
The governor argued that the measure would force the Registry to ‘identify and police undocumented people.’
Lawmakers could override Patrick’s veto but they would have to act quickly because formal sessions end on Tuesday.
Senator Richard T. Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat who supports the bill, said he was disappointed but not surprised that Patrick rejected it. The governor has been an outspoken critic of efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Moore said he hopes legislators commit to an override vote.
“The public deserves the protection of knowing that people who are on the roads are on the roads legally,” he said. “It’s clearly a public safety issue, and that’s why the Legislature supported it.”
The welfare bill the governor signed bans recipients from using Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to buy pornography, firearms, tattoos, jewelry, and other items. Stores would also be prohibited from accepting EBT cards for those items.
While he signed it, Patrick warned it might not be enforceable because, he said, EBT machines cannot be easily programmed to reject purchases of specific items.
Implementing such a system could cost retailers between $100,000 and $350,000 each, Patrick said.In a letter to lawmakers, he cautioned that “this administration will not enforce what cannot be enforced with respect to the use of EBT cards.”
Patrick said he had no concerns about another part of the bill, which bans certain businesses -- such as liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs – from accepting EBT cards. While it is difficult to prohibit the purchase and sale of specific items, Patrick said the state can more easily ban entire stores from accepting the cards.
Representative Shaunna O’Connell, a Taunton Republican and vocal critic of the EBT system, said she was glad Patrick signed the bill. “It’s going to help the program, and save taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Nevertheless, O’Connell said: “It troubles me when a governor of a state says he’s not going to enforce a law – whatever that law that might be.”Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.