The Green Light bill that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed late Monday is getting mixed reaction in New York. The bill allows the state to issue driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.
Democratic first-term state Senator Jen Metzger represents the 42nd District, which includes all of Sullivan County and parts of Delaware, Orange and Ulster Counties. Metzger, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, says her district is the largest rural one in the Democratic conference.
“I have heard from farm organizations, like the Vegetable Growers Association, from many farmers directly that this legislation is actually, it’s very important to farming and to farms,” Metzger says.
And she explains why.
“Farmworkers, of course, it definitely improves their quality of life to be able to drive to the store, to be able to drive to school to visit, to pick up their kids or see their kids play, to get to the doctor,” says Metzger. “And for farmers it’s a huge help because it takes time out of their already busy days to provide transportation to their farmworkers for this.”
She points out that public transportation options are few in her district. Democratic Orange County Legislator Kevindaryan Lujan, who represents Newburgh, applauds the new legislation.
“Organizations like Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, they travelled across the Hudson Valley, and I was one of them, travelling across the Hudson Valley to Poughkeepsie, to Kingston, to New Paltz, to the City of Newburgh, to Middletown, to Beacon. City of Newburgh was the first fair and welcoming community in Orange County and only the second in the Hudson Valley, and we were proud to be that. We were only one of the few cities to get municipals IDs. We’re proud, we’re hoping to get that with the leadership of our city council [Newburgh City Council approved such IDs],” Lujan says. “But it was all about driver’s licenses. It was all about shedding light on an issue that was so important, about people that were living in fear, fearful of being able to get to work, to take their children to school or just being able to go from point A to point B. It’s always been about driver’s licenses. And this has been a battle we’ve been fighting for years.”
Seven Senate Democrats voted against the bill; six from Long Island and one from the Hudson Valley — James Skoufis of the 39th District. He did not return a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Republican State Senator Sue Serino of Hyde Park says she listened to both sides of the debate on a bill she calls extreme. Serino says county clerks charged with administering the licenses have made it clear that they do not have the resources necessary to effectively verify identities using foreign documents as they would be required to do under the new law.
Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni is co-chair of the New York State Association of County Clerks’ Legislative Committee, and has been involved in negotiations over the past few months.
“I have been in favor of the bill. I can tell you that I am dramatically outvoted on this particular issue in my Association,” says Idoni. “But the Association does have some professional concerns on this issue. And I hope they can be resolved in the next 180 days, specifically, the areas of being able to read foreign documents and obviously being able to protect against people either inadvertently or blatantly registering to vote at the DMV office, which, apparently, is fairly easy to do at this point in time.”
Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola spoke earlier this spring at a press conference organized by Republican Halfmoon state Senator Daphne Jordan. Merola said he’s concerned about opening the door to voter registration.
“It’s not a right, it’s a privilege to have a driver’s license,” Merola says. “But if they wanted to give them a driver’s license, make it different than the one you give me.”
Again, Orange County Legislator Lujan:
“Driver’s licenses should not just be a privilege,” says Lujan. “It should be a right.”
Westchester has a state-run DMV office. Idoni says it’s unclear just how much in additional resources will be needed.
“There will be more work. A lot more work? We don’t know, honestly. We’ve been told anywhere from 200,000-600,000 people may be applying for driver’s licenses. Who knows what number is correct, at this point,” says Idoni. “And certainly, I think most DMVs are pretty crowded to begin with so there may have to be an issue of adding staff or additional funding going into the DMV offices in order to be able to handle this type of volume but that’s to be really worked out over the next six months.”
Metzger describes what she believes is the biggest misconception about the legislation.
“It’s been portrayed as, first of all, as this privilege related to, that brings them one step closer to citizenship. But it has absolutely nothing to do with citizenship,” says Metzger. “As I said, it’s about, it’s about being properly licensed to drive a car, and that is it.”
Metzger believes the bill is controversial because there has not been enough education on the measure and there has been lots of political hay made of the issue.