(Feb. 25) – Over crumbling Republican opposition, the House voted 54-11 this morning to adequately fund a public safety program that is granting driver’s licenses to undocumented Colorado residents.
The program was authorized by a state law enacted as a public safety measure in 2013, supported by a broad coalition ranging from the county sheriffs to the ACLU.
The idea is to have competent, insured drivers on the road, regardless of their immigration status. Statistics show unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash. Licensed drivers have passed a vision test and have shown they know the rules of the road. With a license, they can obtain the required insurance, protecting every Colorado driver and passenger on the road.
The licenses are specifically labeled as being invalid as proof of citizenship.
The Department of Revenue based its original budget request for the program on an estimate that 15,000 Colorado residents would sign up for the program in its first year. Instead, more than 46,000 have signed up in the program’s first six months — about six times more than anticipated. So in its supplemental budget request for the fiscal year that ends in June, the DOR requested the authority to use $166,000 – money that has already been collected from license applicants and is sitting in a DOR bank account — to handle the heavy demand.
Senate Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee were OK with other funding requests in the supplemental bill, including expediting tax refunds, bolstering the Marijuana Enforcement Division and reducing a backlog in driver’s license revocations. But they voted to deny the request for the driver’s license program, claiming the money would “expand” the program. The stripped bill then passed the Senate.
In fact, the Senate’s action shrank the program. The Department of Revenue announced that it would shutter the program in Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Aurora, leaving only one office in Denver to handle the statewide demand.
Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, estimated that the waiting list would grow from one year to five.
When the DOR supplemental budget bill, SB15-161, came to the House, Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, brought an amendment to restore the requested funds. He challenged Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso and other House Republicans who repeated the “expand the program” refrain.
“If this does not pass, it will not be an expansion of the program but a decimation of it,” Rep. Melton told the House during second-reading debate on Tuesday. “This is current law. If you do not like a law, you repeal it. But you do not go through these back-door channels and try to limit its funding, or unfund it.”
The House Republicans were out-shouted in a voice vote, and the amendment passed.
Before today’s recorded vote, Speaker Pro Tem Dan Pabon, D-Denver, came to the well to remind members of the broad support for the program. He also demolished the Republican claim that the supplemental request was some kind of extraordinary, rarely used maneuver.
“We’ve already passed 35 supplemental requests in this chamber just in the last two weeks,” Rep. Pabon told the House.
Minority Leader DelGrosso then came to the well to ask for support of the bill, which now goes back to the Senate.