Voters will get say on law allowing immigrant driver's cards

SALEM, Ore. - Voters will get to decide if Oregon should allow drivers who can't prove they're U.S. residents to get a temporary Oregon driver's license.

The Oregon Legislature passed a bill earlier this year allowed the licenses and it was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber, but opponents gathered enough signatures to refer the issue to the November 2014 ballot.

That means the law won't go into effect as scheduled on Jan. 1.

"The fact is, giving a driver's license to somebody does not automatically make our roads safer," said Jim Ludwick, the communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform. "Giving driver's licenses to people who break every other law isn't going to do anything to make drivers safer - in fact it's going to make them feel like they're above the law."

Ludwick's group needed 58,412 signatures and collected about 70,000. The referendum would block Senate Bill 833, which Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law on May 1.

Proponents say the law would make the roads safer.

The law was aimed mainly at the tens of thousands of immigrants living in Oregon who lack legal status. But others also could apply, including some elderly, homeless people and veterans who lack the proper documents to get a regular license.

"Oregon needs this law because every driver on Oregon's roads needs to know the rules of the road and be able to pass a driving test," said Ron Louie, former Chief of the Hillsboro Police Department. "Since all licensed drivers are required to get auto insurance, this law will reduce accidents, make our roads safer and protect everyone using our roads from preventable injury or financial losses. Right now, we don't have that protection and too many drivers are unlicensed, untested, and uninsured."

The license would require drivers to take a test and would not be tied to anything else, including gun ownership, the ability to board a plane, voting or receiving government benefits.

The licenses would be marked "Driver's Card" to distinguish them from a standard Oregon license.

Ludwick said the law could become a job-killer, pointing to its ties to the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

"It's just a coincidence that so many of their workers are here illegally?" he said. "By forcing American citizens to compete for jobs with illegal aliens, it not only forces them to compete for jobs, it also affects real wages.

"The governor wants to bring in illegal aliens to do jobs that we used to do as kids, kind of transition jobs."

Thirteen states, including Oregon, now have laws that allow immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, to obtain a driver's license or driving privilege card, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Official signature verification results will be announced Nov. 5.