Action is stirring in Trenton around the issue of allowing immigrants not legally in the country to get limited-purpose New Jersey driver’s licenses.

It was broached at two budget hearings this week, and the Motor Vehicle Commission’s leader, Sue Fulton, said that the agency has started doing its due diligence on the topic, given that Gov. Phil Murphy supported the idea as a candidate.

“We are aware of the governor’s intent on this matter, and we’re leaning forward in terms of learning more,” Fulton said.

Fulton said the agency has gathered information from the 12 states, and the District of Columbia, that provide such licenses to learn what the requirements would be.

“Given that part of our mission is driver safety, the fact that we have drivers on our road who are not trained, testing, licensed and insured, I believe that there’s an upside in terms of keeping New Jersey drivers safe by offering such a license,” Fulton said.

Yesterday, grassroots activists canvassed at 25 train stations and other commuter hubs around New Jersey in support of providing the special driver’s licenses. Organizers said more than 2,000 signatures were collected in favor of the bill that would allow it, A1738/S1340.

Among the co-sponsors of the bill is Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones, D-Camden, said said the license would allow undocumented immigrants only to drive legally – and only if they pass a driver test and get insurance.

“I have supported and worked with individuals who are undocumented and are seeking to have their presence in this county legitimized to some degree and to protect us in the fact that they might secure a driver’s license,” Egan Jones said.

Beyond the special licenses, the state Motor Vehicle Commission is looking at ways to make its services more accessible for the roughly 475,000 adults in the state who don’t speak English very well.

“For the first time in six years, at my direction, the annual updated driver manual will be issued in Spanish as well as English,” Fulton said. “This year we’ve also installed translator phones in all of our agencies, to assist customers who are not English speakers.”

If the state approves the new license, it would have three levels of driver’s licenses – one that meets the security standards required by the federal Real ID law, a standard license that meets the state’s rules but would no longer be useful for things like boarding airplanes, plus the one granting driving privileges to undocumented immigrants.

“So we’re examining how that would impact the overall program,” Fulton said.

The MVC intends to start issuing driver’s licenses that comply with stricter federal Real ID requirements by the end of 2018, but Fulton said that this summer it will apply for another extension beyond the current October goal.

She said the Department of Homeland Security suggested that would be preferable to trying to complete the work before the current extension expires Oct. 10.

So long as a state has secured an extension, its residents can still use their driver’s licenses to get on airplanes or enter federal buildings until October 2020 – but if there’s no approved extension and the program isn’t operating, the licenses wouldn’t qualify starting this fall.

“This extension will not impact our internal sense of urgency to complete the Real ID project by the end of calendar year 2018, but it will allow us to do a full slate of testing and training prior to going live,” Fulton said.

Fulton said the MVC will also have to train 1,200 personnel on the new licensing process.

It won’t be that much different from what drivers do now – provide proof of identity, proof of lawful presence in the United States, two proofs of address and a Social Security card or other proof of a Social Security number.

But the MVC must start scanning, storing and retrieving identity documents in a way its creaky, old mainframe computers can handle.

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

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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

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