SACRAMENTO . (AP) — Immigrants who are in the country illegally would be able to get California driver's licenses under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate, but it was not immediately certain whether it would be sent to the governor this year.
The Senate surprised the author of AB60, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville, by taking up a bill that appeared to be on hold until next year.
Alejo held his bill Wednesday when it became clear that immigrant-rights groups were opposed to a provision that calls for the licenses to have a special designation on them. They fear that having a license that looks differently from those held by citizens could lead to discrimination.
"I'm unsure what's going to happen right now; we're trying to work that out," Alejo told The Associated Press shortly after the bill cleared the Senate.
Latino senators rallied on the Legislature's final day to revive the bill, saying that legally licensing people to drive was more important than concerns over what the licenses would look like. The Senate voted 28-8 to send the bill back to the Assembly for agreement.
"I understand the intentions of the opponents to this," said Steinberg, adding that the purpose of the special license is to end discrimination.
The bill could allow some 2 million people in California to drive legally by allowing immigrants with proper identification to apply for a license.
Supporters said the state's roads would be safer because immigrants would have to pass the written and driving tests, and would be eligible to buy insurance. Before 1993, citizenship was not a requirement for holding a license.
Senators speaking in favor of the bill said that too often when unlicensed immigrants are stopped for traffic violations their cars are impounded.
"AB60 is not perfect, but it moves our state in the right direction," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who is chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus. "The alternative is a status quo system that continues to penalize hardworking families with tickets, court fees and car impoundments. These families deserve better."
No senators spoke publicly against the bill.
California would become the 10th state to allow immigrants to apply for licenses. The District of Columbia also allows for it.