An Inkom state senator plans to introduce legislation soon that would allow undocumented aliens to earn driving privilege cards.
Republican Sen. Jim Guthrie, who works as a rancher, explained the cards would be like general driver’s licenses and would be issued based on the same testing requirements. However, they would be subject to annual renewal and couldn’t be used as identification for tasks such as voting or purchasing alcohol.
Guthrie believes the bill would help address a shortage of agricultural workers in the state, while also making the roads safer for the general public.
“We have undocumented aliens in the country, and that’s a given,” Guthrie said. “Until the federal government decides to address the illegal alien situation, (the proposed legislation) gives us the opportunity to maximize that workforce while they’re here, because they’re here anyway and driving anyway.”
Guthrie has met with farmers in American Falls and has made presentations to insurance industry officials, members of Food Producers of Idaho, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and Gov. Brad Little. He’s also been working with the Idaho Transportation Department on the card’s design.
Guthrie has created a working group whose members are charged with “making sure anyone who has an interest is apprised so we don’t catch anyone off guard.” He’ll make revisions to his draft bill based on suggestions from the various stakeholders
He’s been laying the groundwork for the legislation for several months and hopes to introduce it either later this month or in early February.
The states surrounding Idaho all have similar laws already in place; Guthrie based his bill loosely on Utah’s law. Guthrie said officials in the insurance industry see an opportunity to make Idaho’s roads safer by training more drivers and establishing a pathway for them to be insured.
“One of the responsibilities of the Legislature is to be responsive to the needs of constituents, and I’m hearing a very considerable need for this from my constituents,” Guthrie said. “I genuinely think it will help agriculture, and I’m getting a receptive ear on the issue.”
Guthrie has heard from area farmers who have left trucks idle at harvest, unable to find enough drivers. Other farmers have expressed concerns to Guthrie about unlicensed workers driving to and from the fields.
Guthrie acknowledges that it’s politically sensitive to back any new rights for undocumented aliens. But he believes his bill has strong bipartisan support and insists he wouldn’t put himself before “the firing squad” if stakeholders didn’t see a benefit.
“I think once we walk (opponents) through it and say, ‘Look at the benefits,’ it will mitigate some of the concerns,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie said a similar bill introduced in the Legislature a few years ago went nowhere, but it was a personal bill — meaning it was introduced directly by a lawmaker without a committee agreeing to hear it. Guthrie explained such personal bills rarely gain traction.
“I’m excited about it. If nothing else, it gets the conversation moving,” Guthrie said.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association has taken a lead role in helping Guthrie promote the bill. Association leader Bob Naerebout believes the bill benefits the public in general and will have a “direct impact on what we all pay on insurance.”
“I think it’s way beyond dairy and way beyond agriculture. I think it has impacts on all of society collectively,” Naerebout said. “We’re talking about equipment going down state highways or rural roadways.”
Naerebout said at least 14 states offer driving privilege cards. The Idaho Dairymen’s Association and other groups are now reviewing the clauses in the draft bill. For example, Naerebout said the language must give undocumented workers confidence that obtaining a driving privilege card won’t cause them problems with any federal agency.
“Quite frankly, if you take the time to look at (the issue) you should be supportive. You should be supportive of the fact that if we have people driving on the roads, they should be properly educated and trained to drive. We want people on the roads who have insurance,” Naerebout said.
“We’re very pleased (Guthrie) is working on it, and we’re pleased he’s included us and said, ‘What value can you add to help me make this legislation?’”