NEW BEDFORD — A proposal to allow those living in the country illegally to have Massachusetts driver’s licenses remains the top story out of Beacon Hill.

The bill would permit all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status, to receive a standard license under the state's now-two-tiered system. Those living in the country illegally, however, could not obtain a Real ID, which requires proof of citizenship or lawful residence as well as a Social Security number.

Local state Reps, overseeing portions of New Bedford and surrounding towns, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, which was discussed during a joint hearing at the State House Wednesday.  Those co-sponsors called into the Barry Richard Show to promote the legislation as well as battle with WBSM’s Barry Richard over it.

Freshman state Rep. Chris Hendricks (D-11th Bristol) called into the show first, defending the bill as “a public safety measure.”

“Twelve other states have done something similar to this. Studies have shown that it has reduced the number of hit-and-run accidents, it obviously increases the number of insured people and the number of licensed people on the road. It certainly increases public safety across the board,” Hendricks said.

“It’s going to require these folks, if they want to receive the benefit of having a license as an unauthorized immigrant, that they’re going to have to receive licensing and training to get to do that. This isn’t a bill that’s just going to hand out driver’s licenses. So, the fact that this is going to require folks in those situations to be licensed and to be trained, that in itself will increase public safety on the roadways. Studies have already shown that it’s going to lower the number of hit-and-run accidents.”

Hendricks and Barry went on to further debate the merits of the proposed changes to the system, including if illegal immigrants can be trusted to get car insurance on their own accord if afforded a license, and if issuing out the licenses will worsen the problem of stolen identification and misidentification of illegal immigrants attempting to conceal their true identity.

Following Hendricks, State Rep. Paul Schmid (D-8th Bristol) joined the show to continue to battle with Barry. Schmid says illegal immigrants are part of the workforce and have to drive to get to work. He continued on, saying that “it’s a matter of public safety.”

“Many of those who are here that are undocumented have been here for some time. They’re in the workforce, they’re out in the field, they’re working in our fish processing plants, they’re taking care of our mothers and fathers in home healthcare, and they’re really just doing the jobs, you must say, most of us wouldn’t do, as immigrants have always done,” said Schmid.

“They need to get to work. If they don’t have a license they will not be insured and I think it’s a matter of public safety to have them properly insured.”

The legislation seeks to change the circumstances surrounding citizen’s rights to obtain a license from the state. The current law, as written, states that a person “who does not have lawful presence in the United States,” is not permitted to a license.

The proposal would change the law to state that those persons “may apply for a Massachusetts license if they meet all other qualifications for licensure and provide satisfactory proof to the registrar of identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson also spent Wednesday in Boston, testifying against the proposal during a joint hearing at the State House.

The issue has not seen much success on Beacon Hill, but progressive lawmakers have renewed the push, arguing it will “make the roads safer for everyone and ease stress on undocumented families.”

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