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Drivers license for all bill passes first Minnesota House committee

By staff

Immigrant rights activists pack hearing, dozens testify

House Bill co-authors Maria Isa and Aisha Gomez

Saint Paul, MN – More than 100 people supporting the “drivers license for all” bill, House File 4, packed the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee’s morning and evening hearings at the Minnesota State Capitol on January 10.

Just a week after the start of the legislative session, the committee held the first hearing on the bill that would create drivers license equality in Minnesota regardless of immigration status, restoring a right that was taken away during the term of the last Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, in 2003.

The committee heard hours of powerful and heartfelt testimony from dozens of community members about how their lives are negatively impacted by not being able to drive to get to work or take kids to school or appointments without fear of being stopped and deported. After voting down several amendments proposed by Republicans who oppose the bill, the committee majority voted to approve the bill. With that vote of approval, the bill's next step in the House legislative process is the House Judiciary Committee on January 12. The companion bill, Senate File 27, began its legislative process with public testimony on January 11 in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Large numbers of immigrants and activists came out to the two-part House hearing, with a morning session at 8:30 a.m. and an evening session scheduled at 6 p.m. so that working people could come to one of the hearings. Members of the committee heard testimony from immigrants directly affected by the inability to get a driver's license, as well as from a broad array of organizations, religious leaders, unions and others expressing their support for the bill.

When the Democrats won full control of the state legislature in last November's election, the 20-year effort to regain drivers license access for immigrants in Minnesota took on a new life. Before November’s election, Republicans controlled the state Senate and used that to block the drivers license bill for many years despite the House passing it and the governor supporting it. The last time Democrats had full control of the state legislature in the early 2010s, they didn't pass the drivers license bill either despite strong organizing efforts from the community. This year activists jumped into motion quickly and formed a powerful coalition to make sure the bill passes this year.

Representative Aisha Gomez and newly-elected Representative Maria Isa are the chief authors on the bill in the House, and newly-elected Senator Zaynab Mohamed is the chief author in the Senate, reflecting the growing power of Black and Latino communities in Minnesota politics.

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