Posted Online: Dec. 04, 2012, 5:59 pm

Illinois Senate OKs driver's licenses for illegal immigrants

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SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A plan that would allow illegal immigrants inIllinois to get driver's licenses cleared another hurdle Tuesday, withthe state Senate approving the measure hours after Republican leadersin the General Assembly offered their support and said they've beenworking with Democrats on the issue for years.

The measure, which would let illegal immigrants get tested forlicenses and buy insurance without facing deportation, passed thestate Senate 41-14.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, was one of the supporters of the proposal in the Senate.

"This is certainly a tough issue, and I can see both sides," he said. "However, the safety of all drivers was the overriding factor in why I voted for it. I can only hope that Washington will similarly step up and resolve the broader immigration issue."

The bill now heads to the House, which ends its fall veto session today. The licenses couldn'tbe used for other purposes, such as boarding a plane or voteridentification.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House MinorityLeader Tom Cross of Oswego stood with former Gov. Jim Edgar and otherRepublicans earlier Tuesday to announce their support for thelegislation.

Illinois has about 250,000 illegal immigrants who are driving withouttraining and insurance, proponents say. Those drivers caused $64million in damage claims each year, according to the Highway SafetyCoalition, a group that supports the bill.

The legislation was sponsored by Chicago Democratic Senate PresidentJohn Cullerton. Supporters say the temporary licenses issued wouldlook the same as those given to foreigners who are in the countrylegally, so police couldn't target illegal immigrants.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights kicked off its campaign in support of the licenses at a Nov. 20 event inChicago with Cullerton and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Edgar andComptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who also attended an event in supportof the bill Tuesday, were there, but not Radogno or Cross.

At the time, Radogno said she had a scheduling conflict and aspokeswoman said she hadn't discussed the matter with Cross.

Asked Tuesday about their Nov. 20 absence, Cross and Radognodownplayed the issue, and coalition chief Lawrence Benito saidlegislation hadn't been drafted until last week.

Cross said Tuesday that he'd seen the bill and was supportive of it.

"It's not a new issue and it's had bipartisan engagement for fiveyears," Radogno said. "What we see now is both sides coming togetherand some movement on both sides to get a product that can actuallymove the ball forward."

Neither addressed the point Edgar made two weeks ago that the measureis a sound opportunity for the GOP to reach out to Latino voters, whoplayed a large role in the shellacking the Republicans took in theGeneral Assembly in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats won supermajoritycontrol of both the House and Senate.

GOP endorsement "bodes well for not only this piece of legislation,which is so important," said Edgar, who also spent 10 years assecretary of state.

"It bodes well for the whole system that we see onan important issue like this, that Republicans and Democrats arecoming together and trying to find common ground."