DENVER — Some have waited months or years for the chance of getting a driver’s license through a controversial program that allows undocumented residents of Colorado to obtain state licenses and identification cards.
“At the end of the day we want to see this be an accessible, effective process to ensure that anyone who has taken the time to learn the rules of the road and pays their dues is able to get insured and licensed and becomes a safe part of our highway system,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.
Singer plans to introduce a bill this week that would allow more offices across the state to process the licenses. The program was passed by Democrats in 2013, and it became law in 2014.
“This bill is about people who are working hard and want to be taken out of the shadows,” Singer said. “And for someone like me, now, who is a third-, or fourth-generation citizen, it’s about knowing that when I get on the road everyone else knows the same rules and I’m going to be safe.”
The size of the program was limited in 2015 by Republican lawmakers opposed to the idea of providing a legal document to those who have entered or stayed in the country illegally. Republicans took control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections and were able to block funding for the program on the Joint Budget Committee, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
“I do not support the program at all. I think it sends the wrong message to people who are not only here illegally today, but people who are considering coming to Colorado without the legal permission to do that,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “It’s giving a tacit approval to their illegal presence in the state and every time we’ve tried some sort of an amnesty deal, and this is in that general category, it has not fixed the problem it has made it worse.”
Lundberg called the agreement in 2015 that the program would only be offered at three Division of Motor Vehicles locations across the state a “political compromise.”
“When they started the program there were a lot more offices that were authorized, and it was creating havoc for all Colorado citizens attempting to get their driver’s licenses,” Lundberg said. “Did that create a bottleneck? Yes, it did.”
Singer said Republicans used Washington, D.C.-style politics by blocking funding to a program that they disagreed with rather than trying to eliminate the program.
“It was a compromise but it was an unfortunate compromise, not a grand compromise,” Singer said, noting that he and Lundberg live about 15 miles apart and have worked together on several other bills.
Celesté Martinez is at the forefront of the movement to increase the accessibility of the SB 251 program.
“There are some individuals who were part of the original campaign for this law, who are still waiting to get an appointment after two years,” said Martinez, a community organizer with Together Colorado and member of the Drive Colorado Campaign.
She said appointments open up three times a day for 90 days in advance, and some people have been unable to book appointments despite persistent calling and checking online. The appointments are for the applicant to provide proof of identification, pass a written driver’s test, be issued a permit and pass a physical driver’s test, Martinez said.
Singer said the program is self-funded by the higher permit and license fees being charged to those seeking the special licenses.
Lundberg said the program is impacting those who are here legally by jamming up the wait and DMV offices.
Singer’s bill has a tough road ahead. If it gains approval from the Democrats in the House, it must clear the Senate where Republicans have a majority and opposed the measure in 2013.
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