September 8, 2005

Calif. legislature OKs driver’s licenses for illegals

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California's legislature
approved a bill on Thursday that would allow illegal immigrants
to get state driver's licenses, sending Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger a politically charged measure similar to one he
vetoed a year earlier.

The state Senate voted 21-15 for the bill, which would
allow California to issue driver's licenses with a distinct
design and color for illegal immigrants. The licenses could not
be used to open up bank accounts or for purposes other than

Supporters of the bill, which the Assembly of the
Democrat-controlled legislature approved on Wednesday, say
providing licenses to illegal immigrants would make roads safer
by putting more trained and insured drivers behind the wheel.

Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said
he had amended it from a year earlier to add the distinctive
color to differentiate it from a standard driver's license.

His office also amended the bill so that illegal immigrants
will not get licenses until new federal regulations on driver's
licenses go into effect in eight months.

Cedillo's office estimated about 2 million undocumented
immigrants could apply for drivers licenses under the bill.

"This is not the bill you have seen in the past," Cedillo
said. "This reflects the national consensus."

Opponents argue the measure would effectively sanction
illegal immigration, an issue of concern for a large number of
California voters.

Passage of the bill also forces a political choice on
Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who took office with
overwhelming support but who has struggled with declining poll
ratings recently.

Democrats have sought to paint the celebrity governor as
too conservative for the majority of Californians and he has
faced criticism in the past for his comments on border issues
and immigration, particularly from Latino activists.

A Schwarzenegger spokesman could not immediately be reached
for comment. The governor vetoed a similar bill a year ago,
saying he wanted to wait for federal lawmakers to decide on
regulations for state licenses for security reasons.

Approval of the bill came one day after Schwarzenegger
vowed to veto a bill to allow gay marriage in the state. A veto
had been widely expected after California's Assembly on Tuesday
endorsed gay marriage -- the first time a state legislature had
taken such a step.

A Field Poll released on Wednesday found 56 percent of
California voters are not inclined to support Schwarzenegger if
he seeks reelection.

The Field Poll also found that 49 percent of voters in
California reported being extremely concerned about illegal