Dornink: Driver’s Licenses for All bill needed guardrails

Published 9:00 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

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Early Wednesday morning, the Minnesota Senate narrowly passed the Driver’s Licenses for All bill by a vote of 34 to 31.

Republican District 23 Sen. Gene Dornink was among the dissenters.

Gene Dornink

In a press release, Dornink said he was supportive of the bill’s concept and intent to make roads safer, but had concerns.

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“What I find problematic is that a non-citizen’s license will be indistinguishable from that of a legal Minnesota resident,” he said. “Our driver’s licenses are used in a number of official capacities, and the Driver’s Licenses for All bill is an open door to bad actors.”

The bill reverses a 2003 rule change that barred people without legal status from getting a driver’s license in the name of security.

Under the legislation, licenses will look the same as those for people applying for any other type of driving license. According to a FAQ sheet from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, the licenses could be used for voting or to apply for a REAL ID. Approximately 69% of individuals without immigration status work in front-line jobs considered essential in the fight against COVID-19.

Dornink also worried another bill working through committee that sought to automatically tie voter registration to driver’s license applications would compromise Minnesota elections, and said Senate Republicans wanted to address the issue “by requiring the license to indicate that it’s solely for driving privileges and not for voting usage,” the release said. “The Democrat majority, however, refused to accept this simple fix and work across the aisle.”

At the same time, he admitted the idea was not new.

“Actually, last year I brought it up to one of my colleagues that this issue is something that’s been important to this district,” he said.“With agriculture, with people on the farm, dairies, were asking for it.”

And he felt there needed to be a path to get this type of legislation passed and still have safety guardrails.

The bill considered this year was similar to the 2014 bill, only this one was a little bit more guard-railed.

And while Dornink understood driver’s licenses for all was needed and provided a safe way for anyone to get to work, he said the federal government was not doing its job, and that in turn caused concerns.

“The reason I voted ‘No’ was because there wasn’t the guardrails that we needed in there,” he said.

His biggest worry: these licenses would look exactly like regular Minnesota licenses. To address that, he suggested making it vertical. Currently, any driver under 21-years-old is issued a vertical license. And that feature made it clear the license could not be used for voting.

Besides a vertical ID, he also suggested marking with something that said the license couldn’t be used for voting.

“One or two things is all that was needed to make this bill better,” he said.

He also argued there were different purposes for IDs. And he felt foreign documents should be used as identification and ensuring immigrants were not in Minnesota “for nefarious purposes.” Having said that, he admitted he had not come across anyone who came with bad intentions.

“The southern border has taken in millions and millions and a country, a state, whatever, we need to have our borders protected,” Dornink said. “It only takes one person or handful of people to cause a lot of problems.

“We know that they’re not just staying in Texas, they’re being moved across the country or coming across the country.”

Having said that, he acknowledged there being great people who worked in agriculture, building trades and filling in during a time he described as having a shortage of workers.

“There’s bad actors in any different occupation, there’s always bad actors,” he said. “We as legislators need to protect the public.”

By Dornink’s estimation, less than 100 people who came across the border were arrested for attempting to commit illegal actions.

Republicans were also concerned about an ability to vote as well as same-day registration.

“We’re one of the few states that don’t have provisional ballots,” he said, while acknowledging he wasn’t against same-day registration.

Instead, he wants to find a way to separate provisional ballots.

“We want everybody to vote, we want to make it easy to vote [and] hard to cheat,” he said.

At the same time, he also believes in helping immigrants, and described the majority as good and hard-working.

“We need to help them get to work safely, and they can get insurance,” he said, and wanted them to have an ability to “get in the system” and serve the workforce.

Having said that, he said the DFL Party hadn’t “really” engaged with Republicans.

Because the bill is slightly different then the one that passed in the House, the bill will return to the House before Gov. Tim Walz can sign it.

Under the bill, undocumented Minnesotans wishing to apply must have a Minnesota address.

Rep. Aisha Gomez, D-Minneapolis, sponsored the bill in the House.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, undocumented immigrants can get a driver’s license in 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.