After her driver’s license bill passes Mass. House with overwhelming support, Farley-Bouvier responds to Republican criticism
The Massachusetts House passed a bill Wednesday that would allow all state residents to apply for a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. The 120-36 vote in the Democrat-dominated chamber is veto proof, meaning that should the legislation also pass the Democrat-led State Senate with a two-thirds majority, Republican Governor Charlie Baker would have to sign it despite his stated opposition to the bill. The Act Relative to Work and Family Mobility was filed in the House by Democrats Christine Barber of Somerville and Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield. WAMC spoke with Farley-Bouvier, who acknowledges that while it took nearly two decades to get a vote, some opposition remains.
FARLEY-BOUVIER: What this bill does, this legislation does, is allows for, and quite frankly, requires all drivers in Massachusetts to be trained, licensed, and insured. There'll be a pretty small change to what we refer to as Chapter 90, which is all things in transportation, which would remove ‘lawful presence’ as a requirement to get a driver's license. And in order to be able to get a standard driver's license, individuals without lawful presence have to provide very strict documentation to be able to do this. And so, for example, they have to produce a valid, unexpired passport, or a valid, unexpired consulate card. In addition to that, they have to provide a document to further prove their identity, such as a certified birth certificate, national ID card, or a marriage or divorce decree from any state in the country. And so there's a list of about five documents on list B. So something from list A and something from list B. And because what's important to the members of the legislature, because what they hear from law enforcement is, the most important thing is that the person driving is trained, licensed, insured, and can prove who they say they are.
WAMC: Now, give us a history of the bill. When did this first come together? It's been a long legislative journey to get to this point- Give us some of the background.
So this has been an issue around for- We think we've gone back to 18 years on this bill. And as a matter of fact, just an interesting bit of trivia, our former colleague Marty Walsh, who then became mayor of Boston and is now the Secretary of Labor under Joe Biden, he filed this in his early days of being a legislator. It’s been around for a long time. And it was an issue that came about- Many years ago, your immigration status had nothing to do with being able to get a driver's license in any state. And it became an issue after 9/11, because people concluded that because some very, very bad people terrorized this country driving a plane into tall buildings and killing thousands of people, some of those individuals had driver's licenses from the state that they resided in, and so we were going to take away driver's licenses. And you can understand knee jerk reactions at times of very, very high stress. But it didn't do one thing to make us safer, and as a matter of fact, it made the roads in Massachusetts less safe, because people who are here and driving didn't have access to driver's licenses. And if you don't have a driver's license, you can't get insured. And so, indeed, it made the roads less safe. So this is absolutely a public safety bill. And that is why we have so much support and strong advocacy from law enforcement, from chiefs of police all over the Commonwealth, from our district attorneys, from our sheriffs, and from our attorney general.
The bill was ultimately passed with 120 votes in the House, making it veto-proof despite Governor Charlie Baker's long standing opposition to the law. You've also gotten a fair amount of- I guess we're going to go for one of the first times in our conversations, Tricia, into something of a mailbag here, because there's been a lot of immediate condemnation from Republicans in the state. The Republican candidate for governor Geoff Diehl says that “it's just plain wrong for Massachusetts to provide illegal immigrants with a license to operate a motor vehicle, especially with the possibility that those persons will be permitted to cast a vote in an election illegally on the basis of that license.” I wanted to hear your reaction to that statement. Is Mr. Diehl on the money with this?
Mr. Diehl is dead wrong, and that doesn't surprise me. And he is putting out red meat and putting out misinformation. So only citizens can vote. Period. The RMV issues licenses to people who are eligible to vote and people who are not eligible to vote and they've done it for years. People who have, for example, green cards are eligible for a license, they are not eligible to vote. 16 and 17 year olds are eligible for licenses, they are not eligible to vote. Having a driver's license doesn't make you eligible to vote, and it never has. People have said that it will cost the commonwealth money, and that again is a complete falsehood. Driver's license fees and other RMV fees, excise taxes related to vehicle, sales taxes related to vehicles- All those things are moneymakers for the state, and the commonwealth stands to gain revenue from the state, not cost the commonwealth.
Another state Republican who voiced opposition to the law is Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons, and I'm going to quote here: “The idea that individuals can cut in line and illegally enter the United States of America then be rewarded with the privilege of obtaining a Massachusetts driver's license shows yet again just how far left the state legislature has become. This new law will only serve to encourage more illegal immigration and make the problem much worse.” What are your thoughts on Mr. Lyons’ statements?
Mr. Lyons is well known for spewing hate and spewing misinformation. So this is not, this new policy would not encourage people to come to Massachusetts because of a driver's license. 16 other states, Washington DC, have already passed this. There is no evidence that people go to a state, move to a state because of those laws have passed. And at this point, because so many other states have passed it, I think the estimate is more than 50% of the people in the United States live in a state that have these laws already passed- And so that's just absolutely false information.
After being passed by the House, it now moves into the state Senate. What do you feel like your odds are there, and should it make its way through the Senate, what happens next?
So I think and I have strong confidence that it will get through the Senate. We've done the work here on the House to tee it up really well there. The Senate President has made very positive statements about supporting this policy. So right now, it's up to the Senate as far as their timing goes. We do know we have a majority of the Senate already as co-sponsors of the bill. And so of course, the goal would be to get a veto-proof majority there as we did in the House. I think that this- You know, I've heard from individual senators that would like to get this, take this momentum and move it quickly. And I, you know, that would be I think the best course for this policy change, is to do it quickly. After it passes the Senate – this is just with any legislation – any differences between the Senate version and the House version has to be worked out between the House and the Senate. There's a couple of different ways that that can be done. And then it would get engrossed in both bodies, the same language has to be engrossed in both bodies, and then it would go to the governor for his signature- I'll use the words, for his consideration.