PCUN President Ramón Ramírez smiles as SB 833 passes in the Oregon House of Representatives. Photos by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News

PCUN President Ramón Ramírez smiles as SB 833 passes in the Oregon House of Representatives. Photos by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News


By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News

Salem — Five years after cutting off driver licenses for those living in Oregon without immigration documents, Oregon’s legislators went back to work and created a means to allow undocumented immigrants to drive on the streets and highways of the state.

Oregon Senate Bill 833 will create a new level of driver permission. In addition to the current driver license, Oregon will now create a four-year driver card.

With both houses of the legislature approving SB 833 in late April, and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill on May 1. Implementation will likely not take place until January of next year.

The Oregon Senate passed the bill by a margin of 20 to 7 — with three senators not voting — on April 23. Fourteen Democrats and 6 Republicans voted for the measure. Two Democrats and one Republican did not vote. The House of Representatives backed the bill 38 to 20 on April 30, with two members not voting.

Five years ago, in 2008, Oregon ceased issuing driver licenses to undocumented immigrants. The turnaround from February 2008 to April 2013 came from many sources. Prime among them was the likelihood that more drivers will purchase more automobile insurance. Few insurance companies will sell policies to unregistered drivers. With that in mind, the Oregon immigrant rights organization Causa dubbed SB 833 the “Safe Roads Bill.”

Compromise in the wind?

Photo by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News

Photo by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News

“This is the largest victory for Latino families, Causa, our allies and our movement in Oregon history,” said Luis Guerra, a spokesperson for Causa Oregon. “The work that went into passage of SB 833 is due to the dedication and hard work of a broad coalition of bipartisan legislators, civic leaders, law enforcement, and organizations from the immigrant rights, legal, business, faith, education, and health communities.”

In their praise for the result, Causa referred to the bill as “Oregon’s bipartisan Safe Roads Bill.” A significant number of Republicans did vote for SB 833.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican from the Medford and Grants Pass area, sent an email to his constituents on April 26 asking for their input on the bill via an online survey. In the email, he outlined arguments both for and against SB 833. While asking for guidance from voters, he did give twice as much space to the supporting arguments SB 833.

Richardson said he found that four other states had adopted driver card programs. In New Mexico, he said, the rate of uninsured motorists dropped from 33 percent in 2002 to 10.6 perecent in 2007. In Utah, the number of uninsured drivers fell from 10 percent to 5 percent. Richardson said the improvement to the insured rates could be attributed to driver card programs in those states.

Opponents, Richardson said, argued that “since everyone with Oregon automobile insurance already pays for uninsured motorist coverage, the fact that automobile insurance would be more readily available is not a significant enough reason to create a special driver’s card for illegal immigrants.”

Perhaps the change from 2008 was that SB 833 was not making it an all or nothing proposition. SB 833 did not ask for a full driver license package. Instead, the SB 833 program called for a driver card — which offers fewer functions than a full license, but a lot more than nothing. In the following months, strategists from both parties will likely review the SB 833 campaign and figure what it might means for future issues.

Some features of SB 833

The 24-page bill “Directs Department of Transportation to issue driver card to applicant who does not provide proof of legal presence in United States but otherwise has complied with all requirements and has resided in Oregon more than one year.”

In general, the bill states, “a driver card is subject to the same statutes and procedures that govern driver licenses and driver permits and shall be issued, renewed, or replaced in the same manner as driver licenses or driver permits.”

The bill requires candidates for a driver card to show proof of age, as well as proof that they have lived in Oregon more than a year.

Holders of driver cards will not be eligible to have a commercial driver license, and they will not be able to use the cards as government-issued identification. The cards will expire every four years.

The bill sets out several fees.  A knowledge (written) test will cost $5, while a skills (driving) test goes for $9. Several other fees that apply in special cases range from $30 to $75.

For full details, refer to legiscan.com/OR/text/SB833/id/827283/.