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MALDEF says AB-60 (illegal alien driver's license) is law

Latino group says disputed bill is law

By Lesli A. Maxwell
Bee Capitol Bureau (Published Oct. 27, 2001)

A leading Latino rights group says a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses has become state law, even though Gov. Gray Davis did not sign the legislation.

The Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund contends the bill was improperly removed from the governor's desk after it passed both houses of the Legislature last month, and that because Davis neither signed nor vetoed the measure, it will automatically take effect Jan. 1.

"Our understanding right now is that this is the law of the state," said Hector Villagra, a MALDEF attorney. "We're going to follow the situation as it develops and see what the state intends to do and whether it takes steps to implement the law. If it does not, then we may take action."

The bill -- AB 60 -- would allow immigrants in the process of becoming legal residents to apply for driver's licenses using federal taxpayer identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers. Proponents argued that the measure would address a critical public safety issue -- more than a million unlicensed and uninsured immigrants driving on the state's roads and highways.

Both the Governor's Office and the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, say the bill has not taken effect and will be reworked next year to allay concerns that possible terrorists might take advantage of it.

David Galaviz, legislative director for Cedillo, said the bill was "inadvertently sent to the governor" because of a "staff error," but he did not elaborate.

The bill passed the Senate and Assembly on Sept. 14 and went to the Governor's Office the same day. Usually, a bill that sits on the governor's desk for 30 days after the end of a legislative session without being signed or vetoed becomes law.

Villagra said MALDEF, a major supporter of the bill, first started questioning its fate after Cedillo announced Oct. 4 that he was going to rewrite it to address concerns over security and fraud. Cedillo's announcement came nearly three weeks after the Legislature had approved his bill and adjourned for the year.

E. Dotson Wilson, the Assembly's chief parliamentarian, said he requested that the bill be yanked from Davis' desk after it became clear that there had been a misunderstanding between Wilson's staff and Cedillo's over whether to send the measure to the governor.

Wilson said the miscommunication between his staff and Cedillo's constituted a clerical error, giving him the authority to pull the bill back. He said the Legislature's lawyers agreed his action was legal.

Jeffrey DeLand, chief deputy in the legislative counsel's office, said Wilson would have the authority to retrieve the bill to correct a clerical error.

But in a formal legal opinion dated Monday, the legislative counsel's office seems to give a conflicting view on the same matter, saying that at least one house of the Legislature would have had to take a formal vote to request that the bill be returned.

The secretary of state's office is investigating, but spokesman Alfie Charles said that because they had not received either the bill or notice from the governor that it had taken effect, "there's nothing to chapter," referring to the final step in the process of a bill becoming state law. "As it stands, the law won't take effect until a court intercedes," Charles said.

Villagra said MALDEF doesn't accept that the bill was pulled back because of a clerical error.

"A clerical error is a typo," Villagra said. "We don't think in this case there's a leg to stand on. This may have happened inadvertently, but the rules are the rules."

Villagra says MALDEF supports the idea of making sure the measure is fraud-proof, and he suggested that could be done through the regulatory process.