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COMMENTARY

Granting immigrants the right to obtain driver privilege cards benefits all Rhode Islanders

A sponsor of the bill, state Representative Karen Alzate says the measure Governor McKee is expected to sign will make the Ocean State a safer, more equitable place

State Representative Karen Alzate, chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, addresses the media at the State House in April.Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe

In the coming weeks, Governor Daniel J. McKee is expected to sign a bill that makes Rhode Island the eighteenth state to allow people to apply for a driver’s license regardless of their immigration status.

As a proud sponsor of this bill, I am thrilled because I know it will improve road safety, help families, and strengthen our communities.

Rhode Island is home to 24,000 people who need to drive to drop their kids off to school, buy groceries for their families, and go to doctor’s appointments, but who have — up until now — been barred from applying for driver’s licenses. They are our neighbors, community members, and my constituents, and I, as an elected official, have a responsibility to make sure that when they drive, they do so safely and legally.

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This new law provides the means to strengthen public safety, a top priority for Rhode Islanders, by improving trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, reducing traffic accidents, ensuring all drivers know the rules of the road, and increasing the number of vehicles that are properly registered and insured. In states that have already passed similar measures, studies found a decrease in the number of hit-and-runs and driving accidents.

Other states that enacted this policy similarly saw an uptick in insured drivers. In New Mexico, where the government has allowed immigrants to lawfully obtain driver’s licenses since 2003, there was roughly a 24 percent decrease in uninsured drivers in the 9 years after passing the legislation. In contrast, during the same time frame, Rhode Island experienced an increase in uninsured motorists and, according to the Insurance Information Institute, is currently among the top 10 states with the most expensive auto insurance. A higher rate of insured drivers not only make our roads safer, it also helps ensure lower insurance costs for all Rhode Islanders.

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Granting immigrants the right to obtain driver privilege cards will also lead to new revenue for our state. The revenue is projected to be upwards of $800,000 within the first three years. Additionally, this law will raise revenue in new registrations and title fees, as well as through the state’s gas tax.

As a state representative, I understand the importance of providing all of our constituents with the resources needed to thrive and live safely in Rhode Island. This law will not only transform the lives of immigrants in our state, it will benefit all Rhode Islanders.

Every one of us should be proud that Rhode Island is finally joining 17 other states across our great country, in making our state a safer, more equitable place to live. This victory belongs to all of us.

Representative Karen Alzate is the chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus.