A bill to create a limited purpose driver license for undocumented immigrants and other people lacking the usually required identification is awaiting a floor vote in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Supporters say House Bill 1007, which was introduced by Rep. Henry Aquino, would result in fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers.

Paola Rodelas is one of those supporters after being the victim of an unlicensed, uninsured driver. She was driving with her father on Interstate 5 in San Diego when a car swerved the side of her car. Fortunately, no one had serious injuries, but it turned out that the driver of the other car was a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant.

Laniakea Beach North Shore traffic

Supporters of HB 1007 say it would lead to more drivers being licensed and ensured on Hawaii roads.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Rodelas sympathized, because she used to be an undocumented immigrant. She moved with her family from the Philippines when she was 2, but didn’t become a naturalized citizen until she was 16, she said. Like the teen who hit their car, she also had to work to help her family when she was a teenager.

“Had I not gotten my citizenship and my driver’s license, I likely would have made the choice to drive without a license,” Rodelas said in written testimony for the bill.

The bill had been awaiting a hearing in conference committee, but House officials announced Monday they are willing to accept amendments attached when it passed the Senate. A similar bill, the Safe and Responsible Driver’s Act, was introduced last year but not passed.

The license would only be valid for driving in Hawaii and could not be used as federal ID for registering to vote or receiving public benefits.

Protecting All Drivers

Approximately 3.1 percent of Hawaii’s population cannot show proof of lawful presence in the United States, according to the Hawaii Appleseed Center. And a 2011 study by Pew Research found that 4.6 percent of Hawaii’s labor force is made up of undocumented workers.

So far, 11 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have enacted legislation that provides access to a driver’s license regardless of immigration status, according to Phocused, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of low-income and underprivileged people.

Claudia Lara, who grew up on Maui, submitted written testimony in support of HB 1007, saying that having a driver’s license is vital to daily life, especially in rural areas on neighbor islands.

“Regardless of someone’s legal status …  we need to be sure that everyone on the road is safe and capable of driving.” — Jenny Lee, Hawaii Appleseed Center

When Lara was a child, her mother was undocumented, so her family depended on her mother’s boyfriend for everyday tasks like driving to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments and taking Lara and her sister to school, she said.

Lara’s mother established legal residency and is now a licensed driver who now drives unlicensed people’s children to school and picks up groceries for them, Lara said.

“But when my mom isn’t available to help, what else can our friends do, than be forced to drive untested, unlicensed, and uninsured on our roads?” Lara said in her testimony. “What do they do when their children have emergencies and they cannot take them to the hospital or pick up their medicine?”

Advocates of the bill say it won’t only help Hawaii’s immigrant population – it will help protect all drivers.

They say that it would ensure that more people on the road are equipped with the skills to drive. HB 1007 would establish limited-purpose instructional permits and provisional driver’s licenses for teens, in addition to the limited-purpose driver’s license.

More licensed drivers on the road could mean more insured drivers, Jenny Lee of the Hawaii Appleseed Center told Civil Beat. Unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers, according to the AAA Foundation.

Reasons for Lacking ID Vary

Besides people who are living undocumented in Hawaii, the bill would help anyone who might have trouble getting all the proper documentation for a driver’s license, such as domestic violence survivors, elderly residents and U.S. citizens in poverty who lack proper identification, Lee said.

“Regardless of someone’s legal status …  we need to be sure that everyone on the road is safe and capable of driving,” Lee said.

HB 1007 “will improve public safety by ensuring all drivers are tested for driving skills and able to acquire motor vehicle insurance,” the Hawaii Department of Transportation said in written testimony.

“Had I not gotten my citizenship and my driver’s license, I likely would have made the choice to drive without a license.” — Paola Rodelas

Galen Onouye, the licensing administrator for the city’s Department of Customer Services, testified in support of HB 1007, but he suggested that the bill should require that limited-purpose licenses have a “unique design and color” to distinguish them from current Hawaii driver’s licenses.

Big Island Police Chief Harry Kubojiri opposed the bill, saying it was crafted to help people who have “made a conscious effort to violate Federal laws.”

“We believe this measure will have the effect of inviting even more undocumented foreign nationals to our state in direct violation of Federal Law,” Kubojiri said in written testimony.

But supporters say the bill would actually help law enforcement and emergency responders if more people have a form of identification. Every time a police officer stops someone who has no identification, it requires additional manpower to determine the identity of an arrestee, said Khara Jabola Carolus, legislative coordinator for the Hawaii Coalition for Immigration Reform.

“A driver’s license increases the willingness of immigrant witnesses and victims to cooperate with law enforcement officers and assist in criminal investigations,” said Carolus in written testimony.

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