Bloomington council set to give symbolic support to driver card legislation for undocumented residents

Just one item appears on the Bloomington city council’s regular Wednesday agenda for final action.

The council will be asked to vote on a resolution in support of future state legislation that would allow undocumented Hoosier residents to get driver’s cards—which could be used only for the purpose of allowing them to drive.

Proponents of this kind of legislation typically frame it as a public safety issue. The idea is that if there’s a legal path to driving, even for undocumented immigrants, that means the government can at least require minimum driving skill levels and insurance.

Opponents typically cite the fact that those who would qualify for such a driver’s ID card have broken immigration law by not having obtained the required documentation before arriving in the country.

Also at its regular meeting on Wednesday, the council will get some updates from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration, including a report from public works director Adam Wason on the results of a street and sidewalk condition assessment.

Wason will also be front and center at a committee-of-the-whole meeting that is set to follow the regular meeting. The one topic on the committee meeting agenda is an increase to curbside trash and recycling fees.

Typically, symbolic resolutions like the one in favor of driver’s cards are put forward by councilmembers themselves. For example, Susan Sandberg and Dave Rollo were two co-sponsors of a 2021 city council resolution that called on the US Senate to pass the pro-union Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

The city council’s resolution in support of state legislation to create driver’s ID cards for undocumented residents looks like it was initiated by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration.

In August of 2022, Hamilton co-signed a letter of support for legislation that would create such driver’s cards. The letter was sent by Goshen mayor Jeremy Stutsman to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb and the rest of the Indiana General Assembly, in anticipation of a bill that was to be introduced in the 2023 state legislative session.

Earlier this year, on Feb. 7, when Indiana senate Republican Blake Doriot introduced SB 248  to the nine-member Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation, he led off by saying, “This is a public safety bill.”

Doriot noted that SB 248  laid out standards for obtaining the driver’s ID that are the same as obtaining a driver’s license, including passing a vision test. Holders of a driver’s ID card would also have to carry auto insurance, Doriot noted.

Doriot stressed that such a card could not be used as identification to vote. He added that SB 248 required a driver’s card applicant to show that they have paid taxes in Indiana for at least one year, “so that we know they are already a contributing member to our economy and society.”

Weighing in against the bill was Doriot’s Republican colleague, senator Jim Buck. Buck’s opposition was tempered by an indication that SB 248 was an improvement over similar legislation that had been introduced in previous years.

In 2022, neither SB 200 nor HB 1195 got a hearing by the committees to which they were assigned. In 2021, both of the bills that were introduced to address the issue of driver’s IDs for undocumented immigrants—HB 1138 and SB 319—also died without a committee hearing.

Buck said, “I have constituents that follow the rules, did the right thing. And they’re having their jobs disappear, because somebody else is taking their job that didn’t follow the rules, and didn’t do the right thing.” Buck indicated that in order for him to support the bill, a driver’s card would need to be tied in some way to the person’s pursuit of US citizenship.

Buck voted no, along with three others on the committee. But the tally on the do-pass vote for the Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation was 5–4 in favor.

Both Democrats on the committee—Andrea Hunley and J.D. Ford—voted in favor of moving the bill forward, which included a referral to the Committee on Appropriations. There it died with no further action.

Based on the video archive of the committee’s work, on Feb. 7 the hearing room was packed.  The committee heard mostly from people who spoke in favor of the bill, including representatives of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, the Indiana Public Defenders Council, the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network, the Indiana Pork Producers Association, the Indiana State poultry Association, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, among others.

The letter of support that Hamilton co-signed with the mayor of Goshen in August 2022 was also co-signed by 46 other mayors in the Hoosier state. The balance of partisan membership of the signatories was roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with fairly even geographic coverage across the state.