September 8, 2005

Calif. Senate OKs driver licenses for illegals

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California's legislature
approved a bill on Thursday to let illegal immigrants get
driver's licenses, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said
he would veto the measure.

Schwarzenegger's opposition came a day after the Republican
governor, who is fighting sagging poll ratings and Democratic
accusations he is too conservative, signaled he would veto a
bill to allow gay marriage that was passed by the
Democrat-controlled legislature.

The California Senate voted 21-15 to let the state issue
driver's licenses with a distinct design and color for illegal
immigrants. The licenses could not be used for purposes other
than driving, such as opening bank accounts.

Schwarzenegger will veto the legislation because federal
lawmakers have yet to decide on security regulations for state
licenses, deputy chief of staff Richard Costigan told

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

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

Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said
he had made changes from earlier proposals to tighten security
and meet the anticipated federal licensing standards.

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

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

The bill's passage forced a political choice on
Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican whose poll ratings have
declined since he took office with overwhelming support.

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