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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

House Approves Migrant License Measure

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

Congress continues to search for a compromise on immigration reform. Meanwhile, Vermont is the latest state to approve legislation that allows those in this country illegally to apply for the right to drive. The bill passed in the House on Tuesday, 105-39, extends eligibility for driving and identification purposes.

It’s estimated that there are about 1,500 immigrant workers in Vermont, without whom this state’s vibrant dairy industry would likely collapse.

The bill passed by the state legislature would help to bring those workers out of the shadows, says Rep. Mollie Burke, D/P-Brattleboro.

“They face daily practical problems – getting to the doctor, getting to the store, perhaps even socializing with friends or relatives on a neighboring farm,” Burke said.

Burke and other supporters say the bill enhances public safety, allowing people to be properly licensed.

In emotional testimony, opponents – many of them farm owners – have characterized the measure as a breach of homeland security.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, though, says the right to drive is a matter of human dignity, and he’ll sign the bill.

"This legislation continues Vermont's proud tradition of being an inclusive and fair place to live and work,” Shumlin said.

The legislation creates what are described as drivers’ privilege cards, permitting the state to issue IDs that look different from a regular state license.