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‘Driving privileges’ law for undocumented motorists goes into effect

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(The Center Square) – A new law giving undocumented motorists the authority to drive in Rhode Island officially goes into effect Saturday.

The change comes a year after legislation in both chambers of the General Assembly was passed.

Late last June, Gov. Dan McKee swiftly signed House Bill 7939 and companion legislation Senate Bill 2006, into law, starting the countdown clock to the law’s enactment to the midpoint of this calendar year.

The new law means undocumented motorists will have the opportunity to obtain what state officials are referring to as “driving privilege cards” from the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles in lieu of the standard driver’s licenses that are issued.

When he signed the bill into law last year at a ceremony, McKee said the changes within it are “an important issue for our economy, equality, and public safety.”

“By granting every Rhode Islander of driving age the opportunity to safely and legally drive a vehicle, we are allowing them to further their education and career – which, in turn, benefits the entire state,” McKee said in a release.

In the statement, McKee cited years-long efforts from lawmakers and advocates across the state.

“(The law) means more workers will have access to more jobs and opportunities that keep Rhode Island’s momentum going,” McKee said.

Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, was one of several lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly to back the bills when they were introduced a year ago. Ciccone was a sponsor of SB2006.

Ciccone cited several reasons for the reforms encapsulated in the law, including safety for all motorists on the road.

“We need to ensure that all drivers, regardless of immigration status, are trained, tested, and insured when driving on our roads,” Ciccone said in a statement. “If the worst were to happen, and an accident occurs involving an undocumented person driving our residents and businesses are protected far better if this legislation is enacted, as opposed to the status quo.”

The new law does include several caveats for undocumented motorists seeking a privilege card.

A tax administrator, for instance, will be required to verify that the applicant has filed a personal income tax return as a Rhode Island resident or been claimed as a dependent in the preceding year.

Applicants also must furnish documents proving their identity and comply with all insurance requirements.

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