Local representatives react to passage of controversial 'Green Light' bill

Originally published in Troy Record on June 18, 2019.

ALBANY, N.Y. — After passing through both chambers of the state Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Driver’s License and Privacy Act into law. The so-called “Green Light Bill,” now law, grants New York drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

New York joins a dozen other states allowing those entering the country illegally to obtain a driver’s license.

The issue has been a contentious one since then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed the idea in 2007. A recent Siena College poll showed statewide registered voters opposed to the legislation by a count of 51 percent to 43 percent.

"Governor Cuomo has supported this policy for over a decade. The key to this bill is not the political intent but the legal effect. We hope the Attorney General's assessment is correct for the safety of the thousands of undocumented individuals who are relying on her legal opinion," Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David stated of the policy.

The New York Immigration Coalition also issued a statement thanking the governor, saying, “restoring the rights of 265,000 immigrants and making the roads safer is a victory for all New Yorkers.”

After the bill passed through the Senate late Monday night, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Bethlehem, echoed those sentiments in support of the passage of the bill.

“The Green Light bill will support millions of dollars in economic activity and give New Yorkers the ability to shop at and support local businesses and employers. In addition, this law is estimated to provide $83.9 million in government revenues over the first three years and $6.4 million in recurring revenue thereafter, and it also increases road safety,” Breslin said.

Yet, not everyone is pleased with the law, which goes into effect in December. Those opposed cite a potential for fraud and a partisan ploy for more votes.

"I voted no on this measure because their Green Light Bill gives a green light to fraud, danger and illegal immigrants voting – a privilege reserved for American citizens – resulting in our Empire State becoming the ‘Sanctuary State.’ One of the major issues with the measure is that of identity," said Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, in a statement. "These IDs, once provided in the form of driver’s licenses, will be used by individuals whose true identity is unknown, for voting, free college and so many other benefits paid for by hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers.

"This bill does nothing to incentivize individuals who are here illegally in violation of federal law to follow the law and go through the proper process so they can become citizens of the greatest nation in the world. Sadly, [Monday] was just the latest example of how the Senate Democratic Majority continues to advance their extreme, radical agenda and disregard the will of the people and the rule of law."

Echoing those sentiments was Jordan’s colleague in the Senate, Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville.

“Giving driver’s licenses to those here illegally sends the wrong message to honest, law-abiding citizens and those who are trying to do the right thing and have been in line for quite some time to become American citizens. If there is one set of hoops citizens have to jump through to earn their privileges but no standards for those here illegally, what’s the point of citizenship when you can just sneak into the front of the line and take advantage of our system? Make no mistake, if we continue on this dangerous path, we will become the United States of Non-Citizens,” Tedisco stated.

“It was a bad idea when former Governor Eliot Spitzer wanted to do it and it’s a bad idea now!” added Tedisco, who helped defeat the plan as an Assemblyman and outspoken critic in 2007.

Also voicing their concerns and opposition in the Capital Region was Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner and Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola.

“Democrats in the New York State Legislature and Governor Cuomo disregarded public safety, public opinion, and case law when they passed the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act. As I’ve stated before, this law creates loopholes for fraud and sets a double standard for people applying for a Standard license. Furthermore, county DMV clerks are not professionally trained in detecting fraudulent foreign documents. I only hope the state DMV will rise as the voice of reason and address these abysmal failings when they write the regulations for this misguided law,” Hayner said.

“It’s like déjà vu for me," added Merola. "In 2007 it was the same thing and then here we are in 2019 and it went a lot further this time. It’s amazing, especially in a time when we’re having people that are here legally jump through hoops for either a REAL ID or an enhanced license and that we’re going to willy nilly give it to someone that’s not here legally it makes no sense at all."

“We’re back in the same spot. I said in 2007 I wasn’t going to be processing them in my office and I’m going to stick to my word, I’m not going to do them there. I took an oath for the Constitution, and I’ll stand by the Constitution, you’re not supposed to aid or abet anyone who comes in here illegally, so I’m going to stand by that. I think federal law trumps state law. We have 52 county clerks who do DMV work, so I’m hoping the majority of county clerks are going to stick together and not process anybody who’s here illegally,” Merola added oh how he plans to handle the IDs.

Merola went on to say that he believes there was a lot of "misinformation" during the proceedings hearings.

“I watched the proceedings hearings and there was so much misinformation, it was unbelievable. They talk about 'not for federal purposes' up in the right-hand corner of the driver’s license, if you decide not to get a REAL ID or an enhanced driver’s license, your license will also say 'not for federal purposes,' so they left that part out. Anybody with a passport doesn’t have to get a REAL ID or an enhanced license, the license that they get will say 'not for federal purposes' but they left that part out, they’re making it sound like that’s going to distinguish between people who are here legally and people who are not,” Merola noted of the lack of discrepancy between the IDs.

“I’m not anti-immigrant, my wife’s a naturalized citizen, she’s from Greece, came over the right way. I also have a son who’s in law enforcement and I think of that all the time, I’ve never heard anybody from law enforcement that thinks this is a good idea, you pull somebody over at two in the morning you walk up to a car, I’d like for that person to be able to tell if that person is here legally or not,” Merola added.