Here’s what new NJ driver’s license bill looks like

Express News

BY North Jersey Record| Updated 9:49 a.m. ET Nov. 26, 2018

North Jersey Record Published 5:00 a.m. ET Nov. 26, 2018 | Updated 9:49 a.m. ET Nov. 26, 2018

After months of negotiations, lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates drafted a new bill that would create a federally compliant Real ID license and a “standard” one for unauthorized immigrants, certain senior citizens and others who lack documentation.

Lawmakers may introduce a bill as soon as early this week proposing the creation of two tiers of driver’s license for New Jersey residents, state Sen. Joseph Vitale confirmed Sunday.

The proposal would be introduced as a different bill than the New Jersey Safe and Responsible Drive Act, which was introduced in January by lead sponsor Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and Vitale, two North Jersey Democrats. The original bill focused on expanding driving privileges to people who cannot meet the Motor Vehicle Commission’s Six-Point ID Verification Program to obtain a driver’s license.

“It helps us comply with the REAL ID Act, and it provides an outlet for people who don’t want to apply for that kind of license,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, director of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, who has worked with lawmakers on the bill. “Some of those folks are undocumented, some of those folks are people released from prison and senior citizens.”

Vitale, a lawmaker from Middlesex County, said lawmakers discussed a proposal to create a REAL ID license and a “standard” license. He said he could not comment on other aspects of the bill because he has not seen the most recent draft and referred a reporter to Quijano.

Calls to Quijano and emails to her staff were not returned Saturday or Sunday.

The campaign for extending driving privileges has drawn the ire of some Republican lawmakers who say the needs of an estimated 498,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey are being prioritized over those of legal residents.

“Essential programs and services for legal residents are on the chopping block all while the needs of illegal aliens continue to be prioritized,” said the 9th District Delegation, which includes Republican Sen. Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove.

Their comments echo concerns from other Republicans who said Gov. Phil Murphy is prioritizing immigrants without legal status above everyone else, following the state’s announcement that it allocated $2.1 million toward a legal fund to help immigrants fighting deportation.

“The spending choices of this administration are indefensible and irresponsible,” said Assemblyman John DiMaio, a Republican from Somerset County, after Murphy’s announcement.

If the bill passed, New Jersey would join twelve states and the District of Columbia in extending driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. But it is unclear how many state lawmakers would support the bill or when a hearing date would be set.

“We’re optimistic that it gets introduced Monday,” said Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network. “We’re happy about that and we’re going to continue to work hard to move it as soon as possible, but we have a long, hard road ahead of us.”

What’s in the bill? The USA Today Network New Jersey obtained a recent draft of the bill.

What are the two licenses?

The legislation proposes creating two types of driver’s licenses: a REAL ID license for everyone with legal immigration status who can meet the 6-point requirements and a “standard” one for everyone else.

The REAL ID license would address the state’s obligation to create a secure, government-issued license under the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 — the kind of ID needed to board a plane or enter a federal facility. New Jersey received an extension until Oct. 10, 2019, to enforce the Real ID law.

A “standard” license is proposed for the probationary license, basic driver’s license and motorcycle license. In the draft, no “standard” version exists for the commercial driver’s license.

The standard license would have a different design or color to set it apart from the REAL ID license. The proposal states that the standard license would not be usable for an “official purpose” like boarding a plane or voting.

“The license has nothing to do with voting,” Estevez said. “Plenty of people have driver’s licenses and can’t vote. There are people who are legal permanent residents who can’t vote. Having a driver’s license did not give them the right to vote.”

Sue Fulton, the chief administrator for the Motor Vehicle Commission, told the North Jersey Record last month that REAL ID licenses could be rolled out as soon as spring 2019. Other driver’s licenses will include the words “Not for ‘Real ID’ purposes” to help Transportation Security Administration agents identify non-compliant travelers at airports.

What are the requirements?

Both types of licenses require proof of and age as well as two documents showing proof of residency in New Jersey. Applicants for the REAL ID license also have to provide their Social Security number.

The drafted bill doesn’t specify what those documents are, but Quijano told the North Jersey Record earlier this year that proof of address could include a home utility bill, a lease or rental agreement, a property tax bill or income tax return.

Applicants for either license would need to pass the driving exam and obtain car insurance if they are driving a vehicle.

The bill also proposes offering exams in English and the next three most popular languages in the state. The chief administrator would be required to confirm every five years what those three languages are.

Under the drafted bill, applicants would need to pay $18 for a standard card (or $7 for applicants age 70 or older) and $29 for a REAL ID card ($14.50 for applicants age 70 or older).

Homeless people would be eligible for a fee waiver if they submit proof of temporary residence through a social worker or the coordinator of an emergency shelter.

Are license holders insured?

Under the bill, all license holders would have to obtain car insurance.

The bill also proposes barring insurance companies from increasing rates for motorists solely on the basis of obtaining a standard license, rather than a REAL ID license.

“It’s important that they’re not discriminated against in the marketplace. It’s important to not create a disincentive for people to get these licenses,” said Estevez of the Latino Action Network.

Will applicants’ information be released to the government?

Some states that approved driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants found themselves under fire after reports revealed state agencies were sharing motorists’ records with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill wouldn’t stop the Motor Vehicle Commission from sharing motorists’ immigration or citizenship status with the federal government. However, it does propose keeping personal details such as ages, addresses and Social Security numbers confidential. Under the bill, an agency wishing to use driving records in an investigation would need a court order or the driver’s consent.

Will this draw undocumented immigrants from other states?

One of the concerns from immigration hardliners is that the driver’s license would draw people from out of state seeking to obtain a license in the Garden State fraudulently.

In Maryland, a legislative audit released in late 2017 revealed that at least 826 driver’s licenses were obtained using counterfeit documents, including people who listed fake addresses. Vermont, Illinois and other states that offer driver’s licenses to residents regardless of immigration status have reported similar instances of fraud.

The bill does not specify whether Motor Vehicle Commission clerks would get extra training to identify counterfeit documents or fake addresses. There are penalties on the books for people found guilty of falsifying information: a fine of up to $500 or jail time, and a ban of 180 days from getting a license.

If passed, the bill would create an 11-person advisory board, appointed by the governor and state majority leaders, to review the law’s implementation.

Quijano told the North Jersey Record in May that one goal was to avoid lapses that would enable undocumented immigrants from other states to fraudulently obtain a license in New Jersey. One way to avoid that, she said, was by meeting with consular offices to understand what legitimate documents from their countries look like.

“I’m going to be reviewing the residency requirement and comparing it to other states,” Quijano said at the time, “so that individuals that really live in New Jersey could qualify and we wouldn’t have the problem that Maryland has.”

Steph Solis: @stephmsolis; 732-403-0074; ssolis@gannett.com.