With the Senate expected to pass a bill by the end of the day to allow immigrants without legal status to apply for Massachusetts drivers’ licenses, Gov. Charlie Baker explained Thursday morning the differences he sees between the proposal and the current ability for some non-U.S. citizens to get a license.

Baker has repeatedly said he is concerned that the legislation allowing immigrants who are unable to prove lawful presence to obtain drivers’ licenses does not do enough to protect against an ineligible person unlawfully registering to vote. There are already groups of people who are not U.S. citizens and cannot vote but who are eligible for driver’s licenses in Massachusetts, like green card holders.

“Green card holders are required to explicitly demonstrate lawful presence, OK? We’re talking about a situation now where, under the current statute as I understand it, all the rules associated with determining lawful presence are going to go away. That’s a problem,” Baker said Thursday morning after a State House News Service event. “It basically means, in some respects, the Registry is going to be flying blind with respect to what it issues when it issues these licenses. And it puts tremendous pressure on cities and towns to do the cleanup on the back end.”

Baker has said it “bothered me a lot” when the House voted down an amendment that would have required the Registry of Motor Vehicles to share information with municipal clerks looking to verify a license holder’s eligibility to vote. He said Thursday that he thought House Minority Leader Brad Jones’ amendment “was a perfectly reasonable way to deal with this, and it was rejected.”

When the Senate debates its version of the legislation Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is expected to push for a suite of amendments he’s filed seeking to make the kinds of licenses undocumented immigrants could receive distinct from existing options in form, function or both. 

(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.

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