The state House rejected a bill Monday that aimed to let Alaska tailor drivers’ licenses for visa holders and other international visitors to last only as long as they can legally stay in the United States.
State regulations require state-issued driver licenses to be valid for five years, regardless of whether a holder’s immigration papers expire sooner than that, state Division of Motor Vehicles director Whitney Brewster said.
The bill, introduced more than a year ago, had been quiet for almost a year. It drew plenty of attention Monday, with supporters saying it would appropriately help ensure illegal aliens can’t hold a state driver’s license. Opponents said it would saddle Alaska with the responsibility of helping oversee immigration laws and worried it could could complicate the license application process for victims of human sex trafficking.
The House rejected the bill
23-17 but sponsor Rep. Bob Lynn,
R-Anchorage, said he’d seek another vote under legislative reconsideration rules.
Six other Republicans co-sponsored the bill, including Fairbanks Rep. Jay Ramras. It bounced through the House committee process last winter, drawing questions along the way, before falling dormant. But Brewster followed revived debate last week by writing to Lynn Thursday explicitly supporting the bill.
Brewster said the bill would let the state issue drivers licenses that expire when the holder’s legal stay in the United States expires. He said the bill is not about immigration: It would leave the Division of Motor Vehicles simply checking drivers’ qualifications and legal documents. The bill would change nothing for license holders who need to renew their licenses every five years, he said.
“Immigration is a problem but it’s a federal problem and we need to keep it that way,” he said. He said Alaska is one of four states that lack such a measure.
Opponents said the plan could be a back door to compliance with part of the 5-year-old federal REAL ID Act. Some also said the change would make it difficult for victims of human trafficking to gain licenses. It was unclear from the debate Monday how the bill would affect that population, which Rep. Anna Fairclough,
R-Eagle River and one of a handful of Republicans to vote against the bill, estimated at roughly 200 in Alaska.
A clause in the bill would have let the division issue licenses to a sex or human trafficking victim while he or she applied for permanent or conditional resident status. Fairclough and Rep. Beth Kerttula,
D-Juneau, said they remained unconvinced the bill would protect that population.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, called the bill “well-intentioned” but opposed what she said would saddle state workers with a responsibility — overseeing citizenship — appropriately left to the federal government.
Various clauses in the bill explicitly forbid the state from issuing identification cards “solely to bring the state into compliance” with the 2005 REAL ID Act, which sought to homogenize the process used to issue state-level drivers licenses across the country.
One line reads that the bill “may not be construed as support for, or compliance with, the federal REAL ID Act.” The Legislature has also passed other bills in recent years barring the state from taking similar steps from complying with the federal law.
The bill is House Bill 3.