An Assembly committee voted along party lines Monday to advance long-discussed legislation that would create a second category of New Jersey driver’s licenses that would be available to immigrants not legally in the country.

Such licenses would give people legal access to the roads but not confer other benefits of traditional licenses, such as boarding airplanes and getting into federal buildings. While they wouldn’t be limited to immigrants who can’t prove their legal status, that’s the main group that would benefit.

More than two dozen people spoke in favor of the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, culminating with a 9-year-old named David, whose last name wasn’t given and who said he was there to support his parents.

“Stop this and just give us the licenses, because I’m sick and tired of you guys just making these promises for like 18 years,” David said.

The vote was 4-2, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The bill has 33 sponsors and cosponsors, including the four lawmakers who advanced it with Monday’s vote.

“It’s a matter of dignity, as we’ve heard, and it’s important that this state, if we’re going to be a progressive state, take care of everyone in this state,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen.

“The folks that come before us today are not asking to skirt the law. They’re asking for what they have the opportunities to feed their family, work in New Jersey, be part of a productive society,” said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, D-Burlington.

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Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., allow people to get driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Sue Fulton, chair and chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, said the state cannot and will not issue a driver’s license unless a person has substantial proof of identity.

Fulton said the phrase ‘undocumented immigrant’ is a misnomer because people who can’t show they’re in the United States legally have legitimate documents from their home countries such as passports, visas and birth certificates.

“We will work with consulates and embassies to ensure that the documents we require are legitimate and proper,” Fulton said, as is already done for noncitizens who can legally get driver’s licenses due to their work visas or through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy.

Fulton said that the system will depend on the final version of the legislation but that the MVC intends for it to be similar to the 6-point structure used for typical driver’s licenses: proof of identity, proof of age and proof of New Jersey residence, which can’t all be accomplished with a single document.

“We would require multiple documents,” she said. “No single document qualifies anyone for a New Jersey driver license or ID.”

Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon, said it seems that the law is being changed to accommodate people who break the law. He said the bill currently required two forms of identification, not necessarily the current ‘6 points,’ worth, and that there’s an amendment under consideration cutting it to one form.

“I oppose this legislation because it confers privileges on those who have willfully and knowingly violated our laws,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the bill is also unfair to citizens because it raises the cost for a REAL ID license to $29, up from the current $24 fee for a driver’s license, while setting the fee at $18 for one of the new, standard licenses.

“The REAL ID requires storage of documents, which there’s an additional cost, where the standard basic license doesn’t require storage of documents,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, the bill’s chief sponsor.

Across more than three hours of testimony, just a handful of people testified who weren’t supportive of the bill. And some in that group prefaced their remarks by saying they weren’t opposed to the idea but has concerns about some of the details.

Specifically, a few people said a provision in the bill making it a crime for state officials to divulge information with the federal government that they learn as part of processing the new licenses could jeopardize the law or even undercut efforts to detect human trafficking.

“If they see something and they know it’s wrong, they know it’s illegal … and if they use the information they’ve received in reporting this, they can go to jail for 18 months and receive a $10,000 maximum fine,” said Rev. Greg Quinlan of the Center for Garden State Families.

Quijano said that provision would be examined to ensure it didn’t cause such an issue.

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Morris County resident Philip Rizzo, a minister in Hudson County, said the new licenses could create a situation in which people who are not legally in the country are brought to New Jersey to set them up with identification. He said people he knows have already done that, in Maryland.

“I think this bill is reckless in that way. It’s not thinking out the consequences of the doors that will be opened up to a black market to help induce people coming to this state under false pretenses,” Rizzo said.

The bill is scheduled for hearings Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee.

It could then be on the agenda to be approved by the Senate and Assembly on Monday, Dec. 16. Gov. Phil Murphy has expressed support for the idea.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com