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Immigrant driver's license bill heads to Senate

SALEM — More than 84,000 immigrants and others could take advantage of a program that would grant four-year Oregon driver's licenses to people who are unable to prove they are legally in the United States under a bill passed by a legislative budget committee on Friday.

The Joint Ways and Means Committee approved the bill, 19-5, sending it to the Senate floor.

A vote is expected early next week.

The proposal would allow immigrants, among others, who have lived in Oregon for at least a year and meet other requirements to apply for driver's licenses without proving legal presence. The card would be valid only for four years — half as long as a standard Oregon license — and could be used only for driving privileges. The card could not be used to vote, board a plane, or purchase a firearm.

A driver's card would cost $64 and $44 to renew. A standard Oregon driver's license costs $60 and $40 to renew.

Lawmakers were told the licensing program, which would begin Jan. 1, 2014, is expected to pay for itself.

"Revenue from customers paying the fee is expected to cover the cost of implementation" and other costs, Amy Joyce, a legislative liaison for Oregon Department of Transportation, said in testimony on Friday.

The nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office estimates the driver's card program will generate $5.3 million in revenue for the state in the budget year that ends June 30, 2015, and $2.7 million in the 2015-17 budget year.

ODOT estimates the cost of implementing the program, including additional staff and operational costs, will be $4.7 million. ODOT expects as many as 84,000 people to apply for the new driver's cards during the first nine months of the program, if the legislation is passed. The initial influx accounts for people who lost their licenses or let them expire because of a 2008 law that required driver's license applicants to prove U.S citizenship or lawful residency.

As many as 30,000 more immigrants and others who have never applied for an Oregon driver's license might also apply for a driver's card over a period of 18 months under the proposed licensing program, ODOT officials say.

Homeless people, elderly people or veterans, among others who have lost or never had a birth certificate would also qualify for a driver's card under the bill, which has sparked controversy because it would extend driving privileges to immigrants who are not living in the country legally.