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Minnesota House passes Driver’s Licenses for All bill


Speakers at the Minnesota Capitol after the "Driver's License for All" bill is passed by the House of Representatives (Isavela Lopez/BLCK Press)


The bill HF4 - commonly referred to as the “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill - was passed by the Minnesota House on Monday. It still needs approval by the Senate before proceeding to the Governor’s office. Governor Walz voiced his support for the bill at a rally at the Capitol earlier this year.


“We want everyone to feel welcome in Minnesota,” he said. “So this is a simple thing to pass this legislation. We're getting older. We need an influx of good, young workers who want to make this state their home. My message to the rest of the country is, ‘you are welcome in Minnesota’ and let's get this done so I can also say, ‘you're going to have a Minnesota driver's license.’”


Immigrants in Minnesota have been organizing to drive legally in the state ever since that right was taken from them by Governor Pawlenty in 2003, when he changed eligibility to require proof of lawful admission into the United States.


Jovita Morales was one of the first organizers to introduce this bill at the legislature. She describes the community effort it took through the years.


“We introduced our first bill in 2009,” she recalled. “And then by 2010 at the beginning of the session, we introduced, we have, we had our first hearing in, I believe it was in the house. through that we, we make up more movement for two years and until, until 2011 where after 2011 with a group of women, we just we just try to we was trying to develop a group of organization with support, community and legislators, and we didn't have enough support in that time.”


Supporters of the bill now include the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services and the St. Paul Police Department. They say allowing undocumented immigrants to drive legally will make the roads safer for everyone. Opponents of the bill say they worry the driver’s licenses will be used for voter fraud, but the Secretary of State’s office has said that isn’t an issue. Morales says she’s optimistic the bill will pass this year.


“Obviously this time, they’ll change it because it's the trifecta - the House and the Senate have a majority of Democrats,” said Morales. “And we have the vote from Democrats that we didn't have in the past. Paul Thiessen was the majority leader in the House and he never passed it.. But then at that moment they weren't there yet. Maybe that's why, because we didn't have a lot of support from all the groups that have power on them to push that.”


In addition, Morales says organizers have increased awareness of the importance of the issue by sharing their stories at the Capitol, year after year.


The bill is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, Minnesota will become the 19th state to allow undocumented residents to qualify for driver’s licenses.


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