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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Advocates Push Four-Year Licenses For People In The Country Illegally

Oregon DMV

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon, like most states, doesn’t allow you to get a driver license if you’re in the country illegally. That may change. As Congress debates immigration reform, Oregon lawmakers are considering a measure that would grant four-year driving privileges to people who otherwise wouldn't qualify for a license. The measure is up for a committee vote Thursday.

This isn't the first immigration issue Oregon lawmakers are taking up this session. On the same day the driver license measure was introduced, Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law a bill that will grant in-state college tuition rates to Oregon students whose parents brought them here illegally.

But Reyna Lopez with the immigrant advocacy group CAUSA says when she talks to people, "The number one issue that people — in the Latino community, at least — are talking about are 'la licensias.’ It's affected our parents being able to take their kids to school, being able to drive to church on Sundays, being able to get to their doctors' appointments."

And being able to drive to work. That's one reason why at least one business group is behind the measure.

"We first and foremost believe it's a public safety issue," says Jeff Stone of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. He says the drivers' license bill would mean more people could take a driving test and get insurance.

Stone says the nursery industry employs more than 20,000 people in Oregon. He says the measure includes safeguards to minimize abuse. The licenses wouldn't be valid as ID to board an airplane, for instance. They'd be good for four years instead of the usual eight. And, "You have to prove that you've been here a year," Stone says. "So folks flooding in from other states just to get a drivers' license is not how this bill's been constructed, nor will it reward folks like that."

But Jim Ludwick of the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform isn't convinced. He says sure, there may be limits, but Oregon would still be hanging out a giant welcome sign.

"Even if they've been here for a year or ten years, they're still illegally here," Ludwick says. "If you reward illegal activity, you're going to encourage more of it."

Washington is one of a handful of states that doesn’t make you prove you’re in the country legally to get a driver license. The Oregon measure has bipartisan support, but has yet to receive a floor vote.

On the Web:

SB 833: Short term driver licenses - Oregon Legislature 
Current documentation requirements - Oregon DMV