Beacon Hill Tackles Driver's Licenses For All And Tightening Rules Of The Road

Mar 25, 2019

A series of recent marches in Massachusetts — including in Springfield and Worcester — supported driver's licenses for immigrants who are undocumented. 

Participants hope to tap into family separation, anger and the larger issue of deportation. Katie Lannan of State House News Service joins us to explain, starting with how a driver's license fits into the picture.

Katie Lannan, State House News Service: This is an issue that we hear about every session. There's always legislation filed on Beacon Hill to address this. Supporters of granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants point out that it's a safety issue, and a family caretaking issue.

If you need to take someone to a medical appointment, or drop your kids off at school, you need a driver's license, particularly in the western part of the state, where it's not like you can just hop on the T.

That's really kind of the point supporters try to make.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: So if an immigrant without a license is caught, that's where the deportation figures in?

Yeah, exactly. People are concerned about the exposure to law enforcement, and of [potential] immigration enforcement there. And you never know what might come next from that point.

That's another point that advocates have been making recently, as they continue advocating for the Safe Communities Act that would restrict local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

This week, lawmakers are considering a road safety bill. What's in it?

They'll be considering several bills this week. We're really in the thick of hearings season now, starting to get rolling. And one of the the main ones is a bill from the governor that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving.

It's illegal to text now, but you can still dial the phone. And people say — the governor among them — that it's time to go to the next stage there, and try to end distracted driving.

Last week, supporters of school funding reform rallied at the Statehouse ahead of hearings on the issue. Can you lay out what advocates are calling for in school funding reform, and what possible legislative hurdles lie ahead?

It's really an interesting time to be following education funding, because there's a wide consensus that the current formula for state funding for schools is not getting the job done.

In the interest of reforming it, the governor and several lawmakers have proposals on the table. The big questions remaining are kind of how fast do you go. There is a report a few years ago that said the current school formula underestimates the costs by $1 billion or more each year, because of expenses like employee health care, special education, and the costs of educating low-income students and English language learners.

The governor's put forward a seven-year plan that he says can be instituted without raising taxes.

We heard from quite a few advocates last week on Friday who want to go faster and invest more.

Is the debate about this really just in the speed of an education funding increase? Or are there actually people who are opposed to it?

I think what you hear is really more disagreement, or lack of consensus, on the details. There are people who think there should be more accountability measures, more opportunities for the state to encourage innovation, or make sure that the money is going where it's supposed to be.

But it seems like everyone's really on the same page — that it's time to find some way to change the current funding formula.

Every year around the NCAA basketball tournament, we hear reports of lost productivity in the workplace. How about on Beacon Hill? Does March Madness get in the way of lawmaking?

I won't cop to any personal loss of productivity, but I will note we had the Northeastern game on in here last week. I've definitely seen a few brackets around Beacon Hill. Some lawmakers are certainly filling them out as well. But I think they're managing to find a little bit of time for everything.

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