Go to traffic court, and you’ll see a crowded room of undocumented immigrants nervously awaiting their hearings, and weary judges trying to find workarounds so that the accused can set an appointment with the Department of Motor Vehicles for a driver’s licence.
Sometimes it takes months, even years, for that appointment.
Now, it will be at least another year before undocumented residents of Colorado will find it any easier to get a driver’s license under a program authorized in a 2013 law.
Republican lawmakers on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rejected a measure that supporters hoped would lighten the long wait for those who seek driver’s licenses but face months and sometimes years of waiting.
In 2013, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 251 to allow up to six Division of Motor Vehicle offices across the state to handle undocumented residents driver’s appointments and process licenses. The program was intended to be self-supporting, paid for by the fees charged to those residents. The program’s first phase allowed five offices to handle the online application process.
But last year, Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee blocked an effort to use $166,000 in fees collected from those who had already purchased their licenses. The JBC action effectively limited the program to just three DMV offices, in Denver, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs.
The cost of a driver’s license for an undocumented immigrant is about $79, compared to $25 for a documented Colorado resident.
The logjam has led to abuses, such as scammers selling appointments to the highest bidder. In January, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced an investigation into the practice, noting that some appointments cost as much as $1,000 on the blackmarket, although those appointments are actually free, she said.
And the situation is about to get worse.
The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimated in February that more than 160,000 are waiting to get in line for an appointment. The three DMV offices can process just 93 applications per day, total.
Despite the backlog, the number of offices that provide those documents is expected to drop from three to one in about 18 months, based on action adopted by the 2015 General Assembly.
During last year’s budget process, lawmakers approved a footnote to the budget bill that would close the Grand Junction and Colorado Springs offices once the Department of Revenue, which manages the driver’s license division, has issued 60,000 driver’s licenses or related documents, such as temporary permits. The Department estimated it would hit the 60,000 limit in November, 2017.
That would leave the Denver location at 1325 West Mississippi as the only driver’s license office in the state allowed to accept appointments and issue those licenses.
This is more than an immigration issue, said Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat, who carried the proposal in the House. It’s also about public safety.
“When I think about getting on the road, I have a reasonable assumption that everyone else knows the rules of the road. That’s for my safety, my family’s safety and my constituents’ safety.”
But the bill failed to garner even one Republican vote on its trip through the Democratic-controlled House, which passed it on a party-line 34-31 vote on April 25.
The proposal’s assignment to the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, was a death sentence for the proposal.
It died on a 3-2 party-line vote on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr.