Lawmaker Has 'Back-Up Plan' for Failed Undocumented Driver Laws


Wayne Jebian
Although four bills that would have allowed some undocumented immigrants access to drivers licenses died in the Connecticut General Assembly last month, there is still hope for undocumented Latinos who wish to drive legally. Lawmakers are currently working on a proposal to attach new legislation to another bill to create a path for undocumented drivers to obtain state licenses. 
According to Representative Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), the bills’ chief proponent, the “death” of those bills has been greatly exaggerated. Candelaria said he has backup plan that he is now in the process of implementing to get licensed undocumented immigrants behind the wheel.
Back in early March, Candelaria told that if the Transportation Committee did not act on the bills, he would work with attorneys to rewrite the wording of the legislation so that it could be attached to another bill. He is currently busy doing exactly that.
In spite of the governor publicly throwing his support behind the previous proposals, along with prominent legislators and several mayors, the Transportation Committee did not act on the bills by their March 27 deadline.
“The bill has been drafted,” Candelaria said last week, as the full House of Representatives was about to convene. “Now we are in the process of identifying that other vehicle. We’re not sure if it will be a senate bill or a house bill, but we’re working on that right now.”
If passed, the bill could be a pathway for some of Connecticut’s 50,000 undocumented immigrants to become licensed drivers. 
With the backing of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, Candelaria said he expects the cooperation he needs to see passage of the measure as a rider to an unrelated bill.
The trick, he said, is to identify a bill that is sure to pass, so that the measure has a smooth ride on its coattails. The legislature allows this kind of maneuver only in cases where there has been a public hearing on an issue, which is why Candelaria arranged the hearing on the proposals, held in New Haven earlier last March, which was attended by more than 2,000 people.
“That was the major reason [for the hearing],” he said. “In order to attach a bill to another piece of legislation, there has to be a public hearing on it.”
Candelaria has cited several benefits to the state if the bill passes, including a higher revenue stream for the state and insurance companies, better quality of life for immigrants, and decreasing the likelihood of immigrants fleeing the scene of an accident because they are unlicensed or uninsured.
The failure of those four bills begs the question: Why did the Transportation Committee not act on the bills in March, given the high profile of the issue and its supporters? “Maybe the committee didn’t have time to act on the bill. That could be a possibility,” Candelaria speculated.
It also possible that committee members feared political fallout from voters in their own districts. A Quinnipiac University poll published on March 12 showed that the public opposed granting drivers’ licenses by a margin of more than two to one.
Candelaria is now in his sixth term, and his preparation for this turn of events is a reflection of his experience. When asked how he saw the potential roadblock coming, he replied with a grin, “Legislator’s intuition.”
(Photo by eddie.welker via Flickr)