AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas House Committee on State Affairs has passed legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain for a driver’s permit.

The permit would allow a driver to get auto insurance. Supporters of the legislation say it will improve public safety on Texas highways because more people will be driving with insurance.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo

“I applaud members of the House State Affairs Committee, who voted across party lines and approved House Bill 4063 on a 7-3 vote, moving the measure one step closer in the legislative process toward permitting undocumented immigrants in Texas permission to be able to obtain a driver’s license to legally and safely drive our on our roads and highways like all others who get behind a wheel,” said state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas.

Alonzo said he also wished to applaud all those individuals who took the time to travel to Austin to testify in support of the various driver permit bills. He said many traveled several hundred miles and stayed late into the evening hours to present their case on the need for a driver’s license or permit.

“Many of them spoke passionately and emotionally about the major difference a driver’s license makes in their everyday lives without the fear of getting stopped by police and being ticketed for not having one. Whether it is getting to and from work, taking their children to school, going to the grocery store, or even jumping in their vehicles to run the simplest of errands, many of those in attendance addressed lawmakers in chorus saying they were not criminals with intentions to break the law,” Alonzo said.

State Rep. Byron Cook
State Rep. Byron Cook

“Rather, all they were asking for was some type of law that would permit them, like all other drivers on the road, with the opportunity to be able to take the proper written and driving test measures. By passing such a law, they would then be able apply for and receive their own driver’s licenses and the adequate required liability insurance just like everyone else.”

HB 4063 is authored by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. Cook chairs the State Affairs panel. Alonzo is a co-author of the legislation. Groups like La Unión del Pueblo Entero have made the legislation one of their top priorities for the 84th legislative session. LUPE’s director of communications, John-Michael Torres said:

“In Texas, thousands of immigrant mothers and fathers worry that a routine traffic stop could result in being deported away from their children. Without documents, immigrants are not allowed to get a driver’s license. Each time they take to the road, they risk traffic police asking them for their documents, arresting them, and calling immigration.”

Torres gave these bullet points in support of LUPE’s stance:

– Allowing new Americans to obtain a driver’s license will provide the opportunity for all drivers to take the written and driving skills tests, and to access insurance at an affordable rate.
– Immigrant mothers and fathers can get safely to and from work without worrying they may be stopped, asked for papers, and deported away from their children.
– More insured drivers means that individuals are held accountable for their own driving record, rather than the state paying for medical care and other associated costs.

The Cook/Alonzo legislation has also won the support of the Texas Association of Business.

“We support allowing undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license based on no-criminal record, the usual requirements,” TAB President Bill Hammond told the Rio Grande Guardian. “It makes no sense to have all these people driving around without a driver’s license, which means they have no insurance. You cannot get insurance without a driver’s license. If we want to have more people insured we need to allow them (undocumented immigrants) to have driver’s licenses. It is seen as somehow a favor to the undocumented but it just makes good common sense.”

Bill Hammond
Bill Hammond

Rep. Alonzo said HB 4063 would permit the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to issue a conditional driver’s permit to anyone meeting certain conditions, including: (1) reside in Texas for at least 1 year; (2) is unable to get a social security number; (3) is unable to present to DPS  some U.S.-issued documentation proving immigration and citizenship authorizing permission to be in the U.S.; (3) has not been convicted of a felony offense;  (4) has completed a driver’s education course; and (5) be able to show proof of liability insurance for the vehicle.

“I am glad the majority of the members of the State Affairs Committee concurred with me on this important measure – something which I have said all along makes both economic and safety sense for the benefit of all drivers on our roads and highways. I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Cook and other members of the legislature to make sure this bill gets all the way to the governor’s desk for his approval and passage into law.”

Just because the driver’s permit legislation has made it out of the State Affairs panel does not mean it will automatically be passed by both House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. In 2013, Alonzo filed similar legislation. HB 3206 made it out of the State Affairs panel on an 8-1 vote in 2013 but it never came out of the House Committee on Calendars.

In the Texas Senate, state Senators Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, have filed similar legislation to HB 4063. Their driver’s permit legislation is Senate Bill 132.