Lawmakers are considering joining New York, Vermont, Connecticut and 10 other states in allowing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants as a way to cut down on hit and run accidents, lower the number of uninsured drivers and let the undocumented population move around without fear.
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone supports the bill from Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier and Sen. Brendan Crighton, and told the Legislature's Transportation Committee it's a way to help out the undocumented population and to improve safety on the roads.
"Driving is often the only way many workers can get to their jobs. So let's ensure that they can do it safely by letting them take the driver's license test and learn the rules of the road," Curtatone said before the committee at Wednesday's hearing.
Connecticut saw a 9 percent reduction in hit-and-run accidents after that state adopted a similar bill in 2015, according to a review of official data by WGBH News.
Opponents say those in the country illegally should not benefit from any state-sanctioned program or be rewarded by the state with the privilege of driving. Gov. Charlie Baker has said that he will "certainly veto" the bill if it reaches his desk.
"Passing these bills will make it even easier for criminal illegal aliens to evade law enforcement and victimize law abiding U.S. citizens and Massachusetts residents," Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson told the panel.
Law enforcement authorities that appeared at the hearing had differing ideas about how letting undocumented immigrants obtain drivers licenses would affect public safety.
"I've been in law enforcement for more than 30 years and I can safely say without a doubt, that crime will rise, more innocent people will be victimized, and more identities will be stolen if illegal immigrants have access to official driver's licenses," Hodgson said.
Curtatone was flanked by Somerville Police Chief David Fallon, who supports the bill.
"But as the mayor of the most densely populated city in New England where 85 percent of the traffic that comes to our community every day is from cut through traffic, we know very well about the need to enhance pedestrian safety and calm traffic down," Curtatone said.
A report from the Mass Budget and Policy Center, a group that supports the bill, says the state could raise $6 million over three years through RMV fees paid by undocumented drivers and that letting them into the auto insurance pool would lower premiums for all drivers.