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Group launches effort to preserve law that allows undocumented residents to get driver’s licenses

People outside the State House pressed for a bill that is now law to let residents without legal status get driver's licenses.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Supporters of a law that allows Massachusetts residents without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses have launched a ballot committee to try and keep that provision on the books in the face of a GOP effort to repeal it this November.

The progressive ballot question committee, Vote YES for Work and Family Mobility, was organized Monday, and is being led by veteran organizer Harris Gruman, a top SEIU union official who has worked on ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, give employees paid sick time, and tax the state’s highest earners.

The committee was formed in response to a GOP-led effort to repeal the law, which is trying to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The driver’s license bill became law earlier this month after the Legislature overrode a veto by Governor Charlie Baker.


Under the new law, people without legal immigration status will be able to obtain a driver’s license starting in July 2023 by providing two documents that prove their identity, such as a foreign passport and birth certificate, or a passport and a marriage certificate.

Gruman, whose union of service workers has spent the last several years involved in crafting the legislation, said he was upset to hear of the effort to repeal the law, but that his group plans to work on educating voters about what the law actually does ahead of Election Day.

“We were overjoyed that [the law] passed with a supermajority, and of course, are now disheartened that there is an effort already to try to repeal a bill that meets a goal that even they want to achieve, which is safety on the roads,” Gruman said.

The goal of the recall initiative, supported by the state party chairman and leading GOP candidate for governor Geoff Diehl, is to ask 2022 midterm voters whether they want to repeal the law. Milford resident Maureen Maloney, whose son was killed a decade ago by a drunk driver who was in the United States without legal status, is chairing the new committee.


Though the measure garnered veto-proof support from Democratic lawmakers, a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts residents found that a narrow plurality of respondents — about 47 percent — opposed the legislation. About 46 percent were in favor, and 7 percent were undecided.

According to correspondence shared with the Globe Monday, a summary of the measure was provided to Secretary of State William F. Galvin in the morning. Healey’s office said the campaign is now able to start collecting signatures.

To begin the process of getting a question on the ballot, 17 registered voters — including former and current lawmakers Dean Tran, Ryan Fattman, and Colleen Garry, as well as Bernadette Lyons, the wife of state Republican Party chair Jim Lyons — submitted a petition. Now, the committee has to collect 40,120 signatures by Sept. 7. Assuming they have enough certified signatures, the question would make it onto the November 2022 ballot.

Jim Lyons said he was unfazed by the countereffort, saying the opportunity to bring a recall question before voters is “healthy.”

“My goal has always been to have the voters decide,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Colleen Garry and also misstated her party affiliation. She is a Democrat. An earlier version of this story also misstated the position of Dean Tran. He is a former state senator.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.