Lawmaker says he has ‘back-up plan’ for failed undocumented driver laws

Although four bills that would have allowed some undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses died in the General Assembly last month, new legislation is being offered 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 state Rep. 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 in the process of implementing to get licensed undocumented immigrants behind the wheel.

In early March, Candelaria said that if the Transportation Committee did not act on the bills, he would work with attorneys to rewrite the wording of the legislation so it could be attached to another bill. The committee failed to act by its 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 (legislative) 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.

It has been backed by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven. 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. An hearing on the proposal in New Haven drew more than 2,000 people.

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.