SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A plan that would allow illegal immigrants in Illinois to get driver's licenses cleared another hurdle Tuesday, with the state Senate approving the measure hours after Republican leaders in the General Assembly offered their support and said they've been working with Democrats on the issue for years.
The measure, which would let illegal immigrants get tested for licenses and buy insurance without facing deportation, passed the state Senate 41-14. It now heads to the House. The licenses couldn't be used for other purposes, such as boarding a plane or voter identification.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego stood with former Gov. Jim Edgar and other Republicans earlier Tuesday to announce their support for the legislation.
Illinois has about 250,000 illegal immigrants who are driving without training and insurance, proponents say. Those drivers caused $64 million in damage claims each year, according to the Highway Safety Coalition, a group that supports the bill.
The legislation was sponsored by Chicago Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. Supporters say the temporary licenses issued would look the same as those given to foreigners who are in the country legally, so police couldn't target illegal immigrants.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights kicked off their campaign in support of the licenses at a Nov. 20 event in Chicago with Cullerton and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Edgar and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who also attended an event in support of the bill Tuesday, were there, but not Radogno or Cross.
At the time, Radogno said she had a scheduling conflict and a spokeswoman said she hadn't discussed the matter with Cross.
Asked Tuesday about their Nov. 20 absence, Cross and Radogno downplayed the issue, and coalition chief Lawrence Benito said legislation 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 five years," Radogno said. "What we see now is both sides coming together and some movement on both sides to get a product that can actually move the ball forward."
Neither addressed the point Edgar made two weeks ago that the measure is a sound opportunity for the GOP to reach out to Latino voters, who played a large role in the shellacking the Republicans took in the General Assembly in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats won supermajority control 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 as secretary of state. "It bodes well for the whole system that we see on an important issue like this, that Republicans and Democrats are coming together and trying to find common ground."
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The bill is SB957.