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January 18, 2017

Getting Out of First Gear on Training and Testing Virginia Drivers

Virginians are safer when more of the drivers on our roads are trained, tested, licensed, and insured. And our communities and economy are stronger when more residents are able to participate in everyday life – drive to work, the grocery store, their kid’s school play – without breaking the rules of the road by driving without a license.

That’s why it’s so counterproductive, and unfair, when Virginians can’t get a driver’s license due to their particular federal immigration status or lack thereof. A new report from a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) stakeholder’s task force on this topic provides concrete options to legislators for fixing this problem and moving forward. The DMV convened this stakeholder task force at the request of Virginia House Transportation chairman Ron Villanueva to “study the potential impact of issuing driving credentials to resident immigrants,” after legislators failed to pass legislation during the 2016 legislative session that would have expanded license access.

Some immigrants who are lawfully present can’t legally drive due to their particular type of federal immigration status. The stakeholder task force recommended expanding access to driver’s licenses to these individuals and all legally present individuals. This important recommendation could be put into effect if legislators pass HB2020 (Del. Villanueva) or HB1866 (Del. Lopez), both of which use the draft bill language that was developed by the stakeholder’s task force.

Those two proposals wouldn’t cover all immigrants. Virginians who cannot prove lawful presence still wouldn’t be able to get a license if HB2020 or HB1866 passed. The DMV stakeholders group did not reach consensus on how to address the needs of these Virginians, but did agree on a set of parameters and identity verification tools should Virginia’s legislators want to move forward with creating safer communities by expanding access. Legislation by Senator Surovell and Delegate Bloxom would create a driving privilege card along these lines.

The DMV task force report provides important information for legislators on moving forward on driver’s license / driving privilege card access for Virginia immigrants, and included a wide range of stakeholders, including immigrant-led advocacy groups, law enforcement, business and insurance groups, state agencies, and The Commonwealth Institute. It’s time to improve public safety and strengthen the ability of all Virginians to fully participate in their communities by removing unfair barriers to participating in Virginia’s system of driving licenses. It’s time to join 12 other states, including Delaware and Utah, on putting safety and community first.


Laura Goren

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