A Minnesota House committee Wednesday evening approved a bill allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses.
Latino supporters of the bill packed the House Transportation Policy Committee hearing room and applauded the vote. The measure needed to pass out of a policy committee this week in order to stay alive this session.
Current Department of Public Safety rules require applicants to furnish proof of identification using documents only citizens and lawful immigrants would possess.
An administrative rule change under the Pawlenty administration in 2003 added: "The department shall not issue a driver's license, permit, or identification card if an individual has no lawful admission status to the United States."
The bill now under consideration at the Legislature would allow identification issued by another country to be acceptable proof of identity.
Critics said those in the country illegally should not be able to be issued state IDs, but Democratic supporters praised the measure as important for public safety.
It is a matter of economic and social justice for people to be able to drive said the bill's chief author, Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis.
"When people do not have a driver's license, that means they do not have insurance. And we've had plenty of instances in Minnesota where people, you know, have a problem, have an accident," Clark said. "They don't have insurance, everybody suffers. The whole community suffers. This is a public safety issue for the people involved but also for the whole community."
No Republicans on the House Transportation Policy committee voted in favor the bill. Opponents of the legislation have argued illegal immigrants should not be able to get driver's licenses or state ID cards. A Senate committee takes up the issue next.
Editor's note: This story has been modified from the original to clarify that the prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving a driver's license resulted from an administrative rule change rather than a change to state law.