DENVER — Immigrants living illegally in Colorado will be able to get driver's licenses under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper, adding the state to a handful of others that provide a legal way for immigrants to use the roads.
The issue has picked up momentum this year, with Oregon and Nevada passing laws in recent weeks, and Connecticut's governor expected to pass a measure that lawmakers approved last week.
Hickenlooper said he saw the proposal as a step toward changing the nation's immigration laws.
"I'm not trying to tell Congress what form that takes, any of the details, but we are moving in that direction, and this is something that's a first step," the Democratic governor said.
The bill was signed in private, before the governor signed several other bills in front of lawmakers and the media. But Hickenlooper's office said the private signing was simply because one of the lead sponsors was out of town.
"We weren't trying to downplay it," spokesman Eric Brown said.
Supporters of the bill argued that everyone on the roads should know the rules and be insured, regardless of their immigration status.
The licenses would be labeled to say they are not valid for federal identification and can't be used to vote, obtain public benefits or board a plane. Hickenlooper said immigrants should have licenses that allow them to drive to work, get insurance, and be identified in car accidents, while at the same time making clear they are not U.S. citizens.
New Mexico, Illinois and Washington state already grant driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can't be used for identification. Nevada's bill, signed into law last week, requires immigrants to prove their identity with a passport or birth certificate, and the "driving privilege cards" must be renewed annually.
In Colorado, immigrants pass a driver's license test and prove they're paying state and federal taxes. They also must show an identification card from their country of origin. The licenses would be renewed every three years.
But opponents argued there's no way to verify the identities of immigrants with certainty, and they worried the licenses wouldn't necessarily lead to more people having insurance. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg said he worried the proposal would encourage more people to come to Colorado illegally.
Colorado's bill takes effect Aug. 1, 2014. Legislative analysts who worked on the bill estimate that more than 45,000 immigrants will apply for licenses the first year.
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