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Sacramento - 8:45 PM - October 3, 2001
Illegal alien driver's license bill pulled
Reliable sources have informed that Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo has pulled AB-60, the bill that would have allowed certain illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses, from the Governor's desk to avoid a veto. Cedillo is said to be holding a press conference in L.A. tomorrow to explain how and when he will re-introduce the bill in a form that is less likely to be vetoed. Stay tuned.


Driver's License Bill a Victim of Terrible Timing

George Skelton

October 4 2001

SACRAMENTO -- It was legislation for 1 million immigrants and its time had come, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo believed. He wanted to make it easier for them to get a California driver's license--and also some drivers instruction and insurance.

Then came the terrorist attacks. Soon, stories were rampant about licenses and IDs being fraudulently obtained in other states, some by suspected terrorists. Gov. Gray Davis got jittery about opening up his license window to enigmatic foreigners.

Tuesday afternoon, Davis called Cedillo and gave him two options: Withdraw the bill or watch it be vetoed. So the L.A. Democrat pulled his measure off the governor's desk. Cedillo will retool the bill--trying to tighten it to Davis' satisfaction--and return it to him next year when perhaps the climate is less hostile.

"The governor talked about us working together to fashion a bill that would not be vulnerable to attack," Cedillo says. "He said he had appreciation for people who came here and worked hard, but right now there is a heightened sensitivity."

An old sensitivity about illegal immigration now heightened by alien terrorism.

Of course, illegal immigrants do not equate to terrorism any more than anti-government Americans do. The hijackers are no more representative of foreigners than Timothy McVeigh was of U.S. citizens.

And Jenna Bush, the president's daughter, showed how easy it is to get a fake ID.

In legislating--as in life--timing often is everything. And the timing could not have been worse for Cedillo's bill.

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca phoned Cedillo before Davis did. "I told Cedillo he not only was putting the governor in a position that was unfair, it was presumptuous that the American people--and the people of California--would be comfortable with this. The sheriff of L.A. County is not comfortable with this bill," Baca told me.

"I would urge the governor not to sign the bill until we are assured it will not compromise our nation's safety. . . .

"The governor has no choice. This is not a Gray Davis decision. It's an American decision. . . . Californians are afraid, and we cannot add to their fear."

Davis intended to scuttle the bill anyway, but Baca's opposition sank it. Before that, the Latino lawman had been listed by Cedillo as one of the bill's backers.

This is the problem Cedillo is trying to fix: There are perhaps 2 million immigrants--some here legally, others illegally--who are driving around California without a license. That means they haven't taken a driving exam or a written test to make sure they know the laws. And because they don't have a license, they can't get insurance.

They plow into your car, your insurance pays. And you pay a higher premium for the deal.

Cedillo, 47, a former labor leader, promised voters in his first election nearly six years ago that he'd fight for the bill. "People said, 'You're crazy,' " he recalls. "The governor was not anxious to see the bill."

In fact, Davis vetoed the measure Cedillo finally got passed last year, calling it "an invitation for fraud."

This year, Cedillo narrowed the bill to affect only about 1 million immigrant drivers. Under current law--in effect since 1994--an applicant for a driver's license must provide a Social Security number. But to possess a number, a person must be a legal, permanent resident--at least a green-card holder.

Under Cedillo's bill, the applicant need only have a federal taxpayer identification number and be in the process of attaining legal status. Plus--as now--he'd need to prove a California residence.

Davis was cooperating with Cedillo; the DMV approved final amendments. On Sept. 14, the bill passed the Assembly, 52 to 20, and the Senate, 23 to 8. Latinos--politicians, union leaders and voters--began leaning on the governor to sign the measure.

"He was almost there," an advisor says.

Then all the bogus-ID stories hit.

That fired up the familiar opposition. "Giving illegal aliens a license makes it easier for them to stay here," complains Rick Oltman, Western field director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "And under no circumstances should we be giving people ID cards who have entered the country without inspection."

But Baca, who is chairman of the governor's new Anti-Terrorism Information Center, has agreed to help Cedillo craft an acceptable bill. The sheriff thinks the DMV should check for possible criminal backgrounds among immigrants.

Cedillo has taken a small step forward at Davis' invitation. And the governor seems to have made him a commitment.

Next year, there'll still be 2 million unlicensed motorists driving California's highways. This isn't about border security. It's about highway safety.