Immigrant drivers license bill halted in committee

By: - February 16, 2023 12:37 pm
Rep. Jay Richardson

Rep. Jay Richardson (D-Fort Smith) listens to a speaker during a committee meeting in January 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Arkansas House)

A bill to clarify and expand driver’s license eligibility for noncitizens failed in the House Public Transportation committee Thursday despite having bipartisan support. 

Arkansas law currently permits certain noncitizens to obtain drivers licenses. House Bill 1429 would have extended that to additional noncitizens who provide documentation of their identity, Arkansas residency, taxpayer status through an individual taxpayer identification number and three years of taxpayer history.

Lead sponsor Rep. Jay Richardson (D-Fort Smith) said having additional licensed drivers would improve public safety for the community and law enforcement, and assist employers who need employees who can “travel quickly and safely to work.” 

The proposed legislation requires a $50 fee, and licenses would be issued for a period not to exceed four years. The license would also be clearly marked to indicate that licensees don’t have voter privileges, Richardson said. The license only allows applicants to drive and obtain insurance, he said.

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Richardson said the bill has the support of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police. He had not spoken to the Arkansas State Police, who administer driver’s license tests.

Rep. Dwight Tosh (R-Jonesboro) questioned the burden this would place on ASP because they would have to provide driver’s license exams in languages other than English. Richardson said officials already provide tests in multiple languages.

Vice chair Rep. Rick McClure (R-Malvern) said the bill is needed now and will be needed more in the future.

“We’re living in a day and time where we’re having a very, very rapidly changing workforce, and English as a second language is going to be an issue from now on,” McClure said. “It will be a burden from now on. We’re going to have to address that.”

Richardson and Rep. Tara Shephard (D-Little Rock) said the bill would have a positive impact in their districts, which have immigrant communities.

Rep. Dwight Tosh
Rep. Dwight Tosh (Photo courtesy of the Arkansas House)

Tosh asked about needing to add additional personnel to accommodate the thousands of immigrants Richardson estimated could apply for drivers licenses under the proposed legislation. Richardson said he expects ASP could adapt much like they did with the “huge influx” of out-of-state residents who moved to Northwest Arkansas and needed to obtain a new license.

“Those things were absorbed,” Richardson said. “It would be foolish to me to say there wouldn’t be some type of burden incurred by the state police, but it is my opinion that it wouldn’t be so overwhelming that it would just drag down what they currently do.”

Rep. Mark Berry (R-Ozark) said he would vote for the bill because “American citizens drive in other countries on a temporary license no different than this.”

Rep. RJ Haak (R-Bryant) said he would prefer if this driver’s license looked completely different from a regular license to better distinguish between the two, and for that reason he would vote no on the bill. 

Before the chair could make a decision on a close voice vote, Rep. Joy Springer (D-Little Rock) requested for a roll call. While the bill earned 7 affirmative votes, it needed 10 to get out of committee.  


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.