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Lawmakers continue debating driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

More than a decade ago, a proposal that would have extended access to driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers foundered, a political headache-turned-disaster for then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Sen. Luis Sepulveda believes the political landscape, however, is different in 2019. Advocates for the proposal are better organized. Democrats have comfortable majorities in both the state Assembly and the Senate.

And supporters are focusing on the argument that driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers is good for safety and for the economy.

“The undocumented immigrant drivers contribute a vast amount of money to the state’s GDP to local taxes, state taxes,” Sepulveda, a Bronx lawmaker, said in an interview.

He estimated the fees in the first year alone for expanding driver’s licneses will yield the state $26 million.

“If you talk about it economically, if you talk about it safety, it’s a no-brianer for us to do,” he said.

The issue could come to the forefront of the post-budget legislative session, which runs through June in Albany.

Still, opposition will likely remain. Some county clerks whose offices operate motor vehicle departments want an exemption, which Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said would oppose.

“No, if we were to pass a law, I don’t think there should be any exemptions,” he said.

At the same time, suburban lawmakers may balk at the proposal, exposing similar fissures seen over changes to the state’s criminal justice laws.

“We’ve worked well with the Senate, the Senate leadership,” Heastie said. “But when things are issues of importance, we have to talk to our members.”

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