Driver’s License Legislation Could Move This Year in Pennsylvania and Michigan
FAIR Take | September 2021
Earlier this year bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania and Michigan state legislatures that would grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. While introduced in previous legislative sessions, the bills this year have gotten more attention from legislators. Unlike in previous years where they didn’t move, this year committee hearings were scheduled to consider them. Surprisingly, the movement came close to the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was learned in the aftermath, the hijackers had roughly thirty driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards between them. Currently, sixteen states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
While the Pennsylvania House of Representatives held its scheduled committee hearing, Michigan’s hearing was canceled but may be rescheduled.
It will be an uphill battle for both Pennsylvania and Michigan to pass driver’s license bills since they have a divided government. Both states have Democrat governors (Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania) and Republican legislatures. The only chance of either state passing driver’s licenses for illegal aliens would be a bipartisan effort led by the Republican legislative majorities.
In the Keystone State, Representative Danilo Burgos (D-Philadelphia) introduced House Bill (HB) 279 on January 27. This bill would repeal a state law passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that prevents illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses.
Along with forty Democrats, two Republican lawmakers, Rep. John Hershey (R-Juanita) and Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware), cosponsored HB 279. Additionally, the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester), expressed interest in advancing the bill, saying “[t]his is controversial, but I think part of it is trying to eliminate the confusions and, you know, put a damper on the misconceptions about the bill.” Chairman Hennessey’s committee held its hearing on HB 279 on August 11.
At the Committee hearing, Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) opposed the bill expressing grave concern over the safety issue of allowing illegal aliens to receive driver’s licenses, saying “[t]he things that were put in place in 2002 were put in place for a reason, because of what happened on September 11th. Thousands of people were killed because we had loopholes in different statuses and people came in here that wanted to hurt us.” Pennsylvania became a target on 9/11 after United Airlines Flight 93 tragically crashed in a field in Shanksville, Somerset County, which FAIR staff noted in written testimony submitted to the committee.
Although the Pennsylvania committee heard testimony from numerous open-borders groups in support of HB 279, as well as big agriculture interests, Chairman Hennessey did not hold a vote on the bill. After the hearing, Rep. Chris Quinn, one of the two Republican cosponsors, withdrew his name as a cosponsor, saying he had “concerns” raised by the hearing. To date, the Committee has not scheduled a vote on this legislation.
No similar bill has yet been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Reps. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) and Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) each introduced legislation to provide driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, HB 4835 and HB 4836. Together, these bills are being called the Drive SAFE Acts, (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy.) Similar to Pennsylvania, these bills seek to overturn current Michigan law that prevents illegal aliens from receiving driver’s licenses and state ID cards.
Back in 2007, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Mike Cox (R) issued an official opinion stating, “[i]n light of these implications to state and national security unique to driver’s licenses and the potential for fraud resulting from the improper issuance of a driver’s license, it is essential that those involved in executing the law issue a driver’s license only to persons who are legally entitled to be granted that privilege.”
Ignoring this opinion and supporting the Drive SAFE Acts is Gema Lowe, a community organizer for the open-border organization, Movimiento Cosecha. Lowe repeats the oft-heard refrain, “[w]e still live, work, go to school, go to the grocery store, go to church in Michigan with a fear of being stopped.” Ironically, both the rule of law and public safety are not considered by open border advocates.
The Michigan House Rules and Competitiveness Committee Chairman Jim Lilly (R-Park Township) set a September 14 hearing date for the Drive SAFE Acts. FAIR staff submitted written testimony opposing the bills.
Unlike Pennsylvania, the committee hearing was canceled mere hours before it was scheduled to begin. House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) asked Lilly to cancel the hearing “because of concerns voiced by several members … [who] raised issues with both the policy and the need to focus on finalizing the budget,” according to Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for the Speaker. The hearing could still be rescheduled before the legislature adjourns at the end of 2022.
The Michigan Senate has introduced identical Drive SAFE Acts bills. Senate Bill (SB) 433 was introduced by Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) while SB 434 was introduced by Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). Both are currently in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte). Neither bill has been scheduled for a committee hearing.