Seeking Opinions on an Oregon Drivers' Card

Usually not short on opinions, Rep. Dennis Richardson is asking his constituents how to vote on a controversial bill to give undocumented residents a legal Oregon drivers' card.Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, is known for having a point of view on many subjects. But his recent online newsletter to constituents reflects indecision on how to vote next week on hotly debated legislation to allow undocumented residents to obtain something called an Oregon drivers' card.

"I could argue this issue either way," he says. "Instead, let me give you both sides of the issue and ask for your opinion." 

Richardson's newsletter does a good job laying out both sides of the argument on Senate Bill 833, introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support and which passed this week by a lopsided 20-7 vote.

He starts off by describing what the bill actually does — gives people who can document their identity, prove they have lived in Oregon for at least a year and pass a written and driving test an Oregon Drivers' Card that is good for up to four years. The fees for drivers' cards must cover the entire cost of the program.

Proponents of SB 833 say there are thousands of undocumented residents in Oregon who drive to work and school illegally because they cannot qualify for an Oregon drivers' license. The absence of a valid drivers' license disqualifies them from obtaining legally required auto insurance.

Richardson notes undocumented residents also include elderly persons without birth certificates or other documents needed to obtain a drivers' license.

The proposed Oregon drivers' card only would be valid for non-commercial vehicles and could not be used as identification, for example, to board an airplane or buy a gun. Drivers' cards, like drivers' licenses, would be recorded so law enforcement officers could check on driving records for speeding tickets or alcohol-related offenses, which is not possible now.

Other states, including Utah, have adopted similar laws and experienced a drop in the number of uninsured drivers.

Opponents say SB 833 effectively condones undocumented workers and "acquiesces to their right to be here." They say Oregonians with car insurance already pay, through higher premiums, for uninsured motorists, so there won't be any cost savings.

Richardson doesn't betray his own leanings on SB 833, but he did include reference to a conversation with a "friend who is a legal immigrant and followed the law to earn his naturalized U.S. citizenship and now is a successful business owner in Beaverton. 

"He thinks," Richardson writes, "we should allow those who are willing to be productive contributors to society the opportunity to get a drivers’ card and redirect our attention to stopping the waste and abuse of the welfare system that is costing Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars. That is his opinion."

Richardson asked his constituents to share their opinion with him before SB 833 comes up for a hearing in the House. Here's guessing he gets lots of responses.