A proposal to create a second type of New Jersey driver’s licenses that would be made available to immigrants not legally in the United States was endorsed Thursday by two legislative committees, setting it up for votes in the full Senate and Assembly on Monday.

The votes in the Senate Transportation and Assembly Appropriations committees were cast on party lines, just as they were Monday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“In all my 18 years down here in Trenton, I don’t believe there’s ever been a bill that I believe more reflects the spirit of our country,” said Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex.

A series of amendments were made to the bill, S3229/A4743, as it advanced.

Applicants for the new standard license would have to provide just one document proving their New Jersey residency, rather than two.

The 6-point system used for providing identity to get a traditional license, in which different documents carry different point values, would specifically apply to the new licenses, as well. Any use of altered or fake documents could lead to a fine of $500 and 60 days in county jail.

Information submitted in an application for the new standard license could not be shared with the federal government unless there is a court order. Unlike with the Real ID-compliant licenses, copies of the documents provided would not be retained by the state.

The arguments made in favor of the bill and against it were similar to those aired Monday.

Among the topics addressed by Sue Fulton, chair and chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, is whether applicants for the new licenses who aren’t citizens will wind up being registered to vote.

Fulton said that shouldn’t happen. Every MVC customer who doesn’t opt out of automatic voter registration is asked a series of questions on a signature pad in which they must verify that they are 17 years old, a United States citizen and otherwise eligible to vote.

“That’s how we do voter registration in the state of New Jersey, whether it’s at the county clerk’s office or at the Shop-Rite when they’re registered people to vote,” Fulton said. “The individual verifies under penalty of perjury.”

“For years, we have already been issuing licenses and non-driver IDs to individuals who are noncitizens, to individuals who are underage and to out-of-state residents. Last year alone, we issued about 50,000 documents to noncitizens,” Fulton said.

“And our signature pad protocol has proved very effective,” she said. “There’s not even one documented case of a noncitizen, underage ID holder or out-of-state resident who has voted or attempted to vote in New Jersey.”

Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon, said MVC employees should play a more active role, rather than having applicants self-verify.

“If somebody is not here legally, is not a U.S. citizen, applies for a driver’s license under this program, it would be very simple for the Motor Vehicle people to flag somebody who’s not eligible to register to vote,” Peterson said. “I would think that would be common sense.”

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, said there has never been an issue even though thousands of noncitizens – green card holders, lawful permanent residents, H1B visa holders – hold valid licenses.

“I’m from Hudson County. I think there’s a greater concern for dead people coming back to vote than there are for noncitizens voting in New Jersey, because it’s not happening today with folks who are not citizens and have driver’s licenses,” Mukherji said.

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Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center, said the state already has a system in place that works for ensuring noncitizens don’t register to vote.

“A driver’s license is a license to drive. It is not a license to vote,” Vimo said.

“The vast majority of undocumented immigrants in this country want to fix their status, and I can’t think of anything more stupid that they could do than commit voter fraud and jeopardize their chances,” she said.


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