SPRINGFIELD — As many as a quarter of a million illegal immigrants in Illinois could qualify for special driver’s licenses under a politically charged proposal advancing in the General Assembly.
The legislation, approved Tuesday on a 41-14 vote in the Senate, would create a three-year license for qualified illegal immigrants that could not be used for other purposes such as boarding an airplane or casting a ballot.
Supporters said the measure will improve the safety of Illinois roads by requiring the unlicensed immigrants to undergo training and get vehicle insurance.
“We believe this is a good public safety issue,” said Lawrence Benito, who heads the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
The measure, which now heads to the House for further action, comes after an election in which Republicans faced a lack of support from Latino voters.
It gained support from 10 members of the Senate GOP caucus, including state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, both of whom are mulling bids for governor in 2014.
Brady said the licenses would make Illinois roads safer. “People die because of this,” Brady said.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said the issue is not a new one in Illinois.
“We’ve got to tackle the problem. I think it’s the right time to take this step,” she said.
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, voted “yes,” but acknowledged the issue of immigration is controversial.
“This is certainly a tough issue and I can see both sides. However, the safety of all drivers was the overriding factor in why I voted for it,” Jacobs said.
Among those voting “no” was Republican state Sens. Shane Cultra of Onarga. State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, did not vote on the measure.
State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, cast the lone “present” vote.
The legislation is Senate Bill 957.