(March 18) – A running controversy over funding for a state program to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants moved toward resolution this afternoon when the Joint Budget Committee approved a compromise to allow the program to resume in some motor vehicle offices across the state.
“I’m glad to see compromise prevail in the JBC,” said Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. “My thanks to the JBC members who came together to make our roads safer.”
The driver’s license program was launched in 2014 under a law supported by a broad coalition ranging from the county sheriffs to the ACLU.
The idea was to put more competent, insured drivers on the road, regardless of their immigration status. Licensed drivers have passed a vision test and have shown they know the rules of the road. With a license, they can also obtain the required insurance. The licenses are specifically labeled as being invalid as proof of citizenship.
But in January, Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee refused a request from the Department of Revenue for an additional $166,000 to adequately staff the program. The DOR based its original budget request on an estimate that 15,000 Colorado residents would sign up for the program in its first year. Instead, more than 46,000 signed up in the program’s first six months — about six times more than anticipated.
The $166,000 sought by the DOR has already been collected from license applicants and is sitting in a DOR bank account. No additional taxpayer funds would have been used.
But the Republicans on the JBC, and in the full Senate, refused to back down, even after the House voted with strong bipartisan support to grant the DOR budget request.
Today’s action was taken by the JBC members meeting as a conference committee to resolve the impasse. They voted unanimously to approve a pared-down $62,000 supplemental budget request that will allow the DOR to continue the program in three of the original five locations.
The JBC’s action sends the compromise to the full House and Senate for ratification.