Starting this year, foreign nationals who wish to drive in Alaska may be getting more scrutiny when they go to the DMV. A bill pegging the expiration date of a driver’s license to a person’s immigration status is now on its way to the governor’s desk.
The point of the legislation is to make sure immigrants who are not legally allowed to be in the United States can’t use an Alaska driver’s license as a cover.
Sen. Fred Dyson, a Republican from Eagle River, carried the bill.
“We have a responsibility to see that our major means of identification is not used inappropriately,” says Dyson.
Instead of letting a foreign national get a license for five years after they pass their driver’s test, the DMV would match the license expiration date to the exit date on their visa. If a foreign national is allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely, they would have to get their driver’s license renewed by the DMV every year.
Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, was one of a handful of senators to oppose the bill. He says bringing immigration status into the licensing process goes beyond the DMV’s mission of road safety.
“It turns the Department of Motor Vehicles into an arm of the federal immigration and naturalization service,” says Dyson.
He believes the law could create difficulties for foreign workers and international students, and that it could open the state up to lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union has already come out against the legislation, arguing that it could pose an equal protection problem by making immigrants jump through extra hoops.
Wielechowski also anticipates it will increase the workload at the DMV.
“This bill requires DMV to become expert in more than 80 different types of immigration and other statuses,” says Wielechowski.
In response, supporters of the bill stressed its simplicity, and noted that dozens of other states already have similar laws on the books.
The legislation passed 13 to four, with the vote breaking down mostly on caucus lines. Mat-Su Sen. Mike Dunleavy was the lone Republican to join the Democratic Minority in opposition to the measure. It passed the House by a sizable majority last year.
The bill isn’t the only piece of DMV policy the Legislature’s considering. One bill in the House would allow military spouses to keep their out-of-state licenses. Another in the Senate would provide subsidies to third-party contractors who do vehicle registrations for people who don’t want to wait in line at the DMV. That bill would let those contractors keep 15 percent of the revenue from those transactions, and it would cost the state over $1 million.
KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal contributed reporting to this story.