Committee passes tougher rules for driver licenses


The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously passed an amended, stiffer version of a bill to require proof of legal U.S. residence to get an Oregon driver's license. The bill now goes to the Joint Ways Means Committee.

The version approved late Tuesday not only requires applicants to have such proof, but limits validity of Oregon licenses to the length of the applicant's authorized stay, up to eight years, or to one year if there is no stay limit. It provides for an ombudsman to help people having trouble replacing lost documents needed to prove legal residence.

The legislation would formalize an executive order issued by Gov. Ted Kulongoski that became effective Monday. Kulongoski said Oregon's loose rules have made the state a target for noncitizens who seek to obtain identification cards for "nefarious" purposes.

The new rules require proof of identity and Oregon residency and a Social Security number that would be verified with the federal government. Applicants without Social Security numbers must submit a U.S. passport, visa or other documentation from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Oregon was one of six states that did not have that standard, which is required under the federal Real ID Act of 2005.

Some legislators, citing privacy concerns, are balking at a requirement that state information be submitted to a federal database. Sen. Larry George, R-Newberg, criticized Congress for not passing comprehensive immigration reform that would allow workers to enter the United States and work legally.

He said the inaction forces Oregon "to comply with a mandate that does not address the underlying issues."

Several Hispanics at Tuesday's hearing said the law would cause hardships and force them to drive unlicensed with no insurance. Nicolas Beltran, a field worker, said he and his co-workers need driver's licenses for identification to cash paychecks and said many must drive long distances to reach their jobs.

"I ask you to help my brother Hispanic workers" he told the committee.

Olga Guererro, who said she is a U.S. citizen, predicted other problems, such as parents having to find a way to get their children to school in areas with no bus service.

Jeff Stone, representing Oregon's $1 billion-plus nursery industry, said the law would create more issues than it would resolve and would "drive agricultural workers out of the state and deprive Oregon of a needed work force." He said his counterparts in Texas, Arizona and California, which have legal residency requirements, are feeling the shortages he fears could hit Oregon.

But Jim Ludwick of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which strongly opposes the presence of undocumented workers, said if Congress would show it means business about tightening borders, his group would discuss issues such as labor shortages.

He said there should be "one set of laws everyone has to obey," a common theme of many in favor of the bill, some of whom strayed to the broader theme of illegal immigration and away from the license issue.

Ted Campbell of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an anti-illegal immigration group, said foreigners can get international driver's licenses that would be valid here in their home country of record.

Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, suggested that Oregon join other states in forcing Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that could head off shortages of agricultural workers.

As the bill stands, undocumented immigrants who already have Oregon licenses could keep them but would have to show proof of legal residence when they renew.

Committee Chairman Rick Metsger, D-Welches, said he sympathized with the up to 150,000 people in Oregon who could be affected by the law but said he had to consider the 2.5 million Oregonians whose rights would be restricted by not having secured driver's licenses.

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