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OR Driver's License Access Bill Gets a Hearing

April 18, 2011

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon's immigrant community is driving home its point – that everyone should be allowed to drive, no matter what their immigration status. They'll rally this afternoon, just before a Senate committee hears testimony on a bill to restore driver's license access to non-citizens. It would change an Oregon law that's been in place since 2008.

Jose Gonzales plans to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 845. As a real-estate agent in Salem and a Latino Business Alliance member, he says the driver's license restriction has sent a chill through the Latino community, prompting some to think differently about putting down roots in Oregon.

"'This community might not be stable for myself, or my family.' And these are people that are documented, the people that have driver's licenses, but they're hearing, they're feeling, that this is not a future, that this place is not the best place to invest."

Gonzales says, in his business, instability translates into fewer home sales, and he has talked with merchants who also are concerned about it.

"We don't simply wait for the phone to ring; we're out there. And it's something we deal with every day. And it's at different levels - I'm talking about first-time buyers, investors, business owners - and even on the corporate level. We deal with people that have never even thought this would have affected them. It's an issue that really has gone the whole spectrum."

The bill has received bipartisan support from some lawmakers, who believe it's a way to ensure that all drivers on Oregon roads are registered and have insurance. Its critics say since licenses are used as identification, granting them to non-citizens creates security problems.

The rally is at 4:00 p.m. today on the State Capitol steps; the hearing is at 6:00 p.m. in the Senate Business, Transportation and Economic Development Committee.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR