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, would create a three-year license for qualified undocumented 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 driver 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 considering bids for governor in 2014.
Brady said the licenses will 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,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. “I think it’s the right time to take this step.”
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,” Jacobs said. “However, the safety of all drivers was the overriding factor in why I voted for it.”
State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, cast the lone “present” vote.
The legislation is Senate Bill 957.