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RI POLITICS

R.I. Senate votes to provide driver privilege cards to undocumented residents

The vote came on the same day the Massachusetts Senate voted to allow people without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses

Senator Frank J. Ciccone III, a Providence Democrat who introduced the bill the provide driver privilege cards to undocumented residents.Screen

PROVIDENCE — The state Senate on Thursday voted 27 to 10 for a bill that would provide driver privilege cards for undocumented residents.

The Senate passed similar legislation last year, so attention now turns to whether the House will pass the bill and send it to Governor Daniel J. McKee, who supports the measure.

The vote came on the same day that the Massachusetts Senate voted 32 to 8 for a bill to allow people without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses, and the Massachusetts House has already passed a similar bill with similar margin to overcome a possible veto by Governor Charlie Baker.

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Senator Frank A. Ciccone III, a Providence Democrat, sponsored the bill again this year, saying Rhode Island would become the 18th state to provide driver privileges to unauthorized immigrants.

The legislation has been reviewed by the governor’s office, the lieutenant governor’s office, the Division of Motor Vehicles, and the Department of Revenue, Ciccone said. “This would be a first that all departments in the executive branch were in favor of the bill before you,” he said.

The bill would authorize the DMV to issue driver privilege card or permits to anyone who is unable to establish a legal presence in the country, as long as the tax administrator verifies they filed a personal income tax return as a resident of the state and they can provide two proof of identity documents and two proof of residence documents.

The driving privilege card or permit would not be a valid form of identification for official federal purposes or state voting purposes.

Senator Sandro Cano, a Pawtucket Democrat, said her family came from Colombia in 2000 under political asylum and it took seven years to go through the immigration process and get driver’s licenses. “During those seven years, I had to take buses, I had to ask for rides,” she said. “And at that time we didn’t have Uber, so imagine how difficult it was.”

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Many families are here going through the immigration process, Cano said. “While we cannot change the federal immigration law locally, we can ensure finance and enhance public safety for all Rhode Islanders by allowing all motorists access to a valid Rhode Island driver’s license. It is the right thing to do.”

Cano said there are many misconceptions about undocumented immigrants. Many families pay taxes but cannot apply for public benefits, she said. “They contribute to the economy. They are hard-working individuals.”

Senator Ana B. Quezada, a Providence Democrat, said her husband was undocumented before becoming a citizen, and he worked hard for many years to help his family. She joined Cano in thanking Ciccone for introducing the legislation, saying, “It will be helping many, many working families in Rhode Island.”

Quezada noted this is the second consecutive year the Senate has passed the bill, saying, “I hope the House does the right thing and finally passes the bill and it goes to the governor to be signed.”

The 10 votes against the bill came from the Senate’s five Republicans plus five Democratic senators: Walter S. Felag Jr., Frank Lombardi, Frank Lombardo III, Roger A. Picard, and Leonidas P. Raptakis.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.