Some Democratic lawmakers pushed Monday for legislation that would undo a Department of Public Safety drivers' license policy they say harms U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, of San Antonio, said the DPS overstepped its authority by creating new identification rules last fall for drivers' license applicants without getting approval from the Legislature.
Under the new DPS rules, people seeking drivers' licenses who aren't U.S. citizens must show they are in the country legally and that their immigration documents don't expire within six months. DPS also changed the look of the licenses given to legal residents and added the designation "temporary visitor" on the card.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry supports the DPS rules, which took effect Oct. 1. His spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the rule change "ensures public safety and national security." She said the identification requirement is not unreasonable and shows that applicants are who they say they are.
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The Public Safety Commission, which oversees DPS, said it wanted the change to enhance security and deter fraud. DPS officials say the change brings Texas closer to compliance with the impending federal REAL ID Act launched after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and governing drivers' license security.
The REAL ID act is unpopular with many states, and McClendon said it amounts to an unfunded mandate.
Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, said some elderly Texans do not have birth certificates. He specifically mentioned a 98-year-old woman in Fort Worth, whose original certificate burned in a courthouse fire years ago. Other U.S. citizens who were delivered by midwives don't have birth certificates, he said.
McClendon and the other opponents say the new rules prevent people who need to drive from being able to do so. By setting up obstacles to obtaining a proper license, the new rules actually encourage people to skip the process and proceed without a license, McClendon said.
Even U.S. citizens who weren't born in the United States find themselves hindered by the rules, they say.
The American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund oppose the new DPS rules. There are currently two lawsuits pending over the rules.
Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas ACLU, said the rules require DPS employees to become familiar with the complex federal immigration code when all they should do is require applicants to prove their identification and current residency status.
Some Republicans on the House committee suggested that the confusion might be solved by clarifying the rules for the public and DPS employees.
Robert Burroughs, DPS assistant chief for drivers' licenses, testified that is currently happening. He acknowledged there are several dozen problems with the rules statewide each day.
He said the agency is working to deal with those and with federal officials in confirming documentation.