House cancels hearing on expanded license options amid lawmaker concerns

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican House leadership made a last-minute cancellation Tuesday to a hearing on legislation that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license or state identification if they could prove Michigan residency. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, asked Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, to cancel the House Rules and Competitiveness Committee just a couple hours before it was scheduled to begin because of concerns voiced by several members, said Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for Wentworth.

"Generally, members raised issues with both the policy and the need to focus on finalizing the budget this week," D'Assandro said.

It's not clear whether the hearing will be rescheduled. 

A large group of protesters who had traveled to the Capitol to support the bill took their rally inside the Capitol after hearing of the cancellation. 

"They always promise one thing and do the opposite," said Fabiola Venegas, who came to the country in 1998 and currently resides in Detroit. Venegas said the legislation would have allowed countless undocumented residents to drive their kids to school or to the hospital.

"I am here to represent all of those people who need to drive because it's a necessity," she said.

The legislation that would have been considered by the committee Tuesday comes amid a 13-year effort to change state law to allow people living in Michigan to get a state ID or driver's license, regardless of immigration status. 

Republican former Attorney General Mike Cox in 2007 opined that only permanent residents could obtain a driver's license in Michigan. After that opinion, Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land required first-time applicants for a driver's license to prove permanent legal residency.

The legislation that was supposed to be considered Tuesday would allow individuals without sufficient identification documents to receive an official state personal identification card if they provided other sorts of identification to establish residency in Michigan. 

The bills would require the Department of State to develop rules regarding which forms will be adequate to prove residency and get a temporary operator's license. 

About three dozen individuals gathered on the Captiol lawn Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, ahead of a planned hearing on licensing and identification based on Michigan residency, not immigration statuts.

Those forms, according to the bill language, must at least include a valid passport, birth certificate, Michigan utility, property tax or rental bill, an income tax return, a marriage or divorce certificate, a foreign driver's license, a U.S. application for asylum or withholding of removal, an official school transcript, other U.S. forms or a deed to real property.

Any temporary licenses given under the bill must include some sort of marker indicating the license is invalid for "official federal purposes," the proposed bill said. 

Anyone in possession of the temporary license should not be discriminated against or detained by police based solely on the license, according to the proposed legislation. Additionally, information gathered through the temporary licensing process would be exempt from public record disclosure, with exemptions for a warrant or subpoena.

"This section and documents prepared pursuant to this section do not grant an individual who is not a United States citizen the right to vote," the bill language said. 

The Department of State also must put together a hearing process for an applicant to appeal any denials of a temporary operator's license, the bill said.