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Mass. voters may get to decide whether to overturn undocumented immigrant driver's license law

Mass. Sen. Jamie Eldridge embraces Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz of 32BJ SEIU, a co-chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition, as activists stream out of the Senate Gallery after passage of the driver's license bill at the Statehouse.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Mass. Sen. Jamie Eldridge embraces Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz of 32BJ SEIU, a co-chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition, as activists stream out of the Senate Gallery after passage of the driver's license bill at the Statehouse.

Opponents of a measure to allow undocumented immigrants to get Massachusetts driver's licenses believe they have collected enough signatures to get their repeal question onto the November ballot. The Secretary of State's office still needs to verify those signatures before it gets on the ballot. So, it's not a done deal yet. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did not support this measure. It passed by a Legislative veto override.

Matt Murphy, of the State House News Service, reminds us how the so-called “Work and Family Mobility Act” is supposed to work, and what challengers’ concerns are.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Well, this was a law that has been proposed and debated and discussed for years on Beacon Hill. And finally, Democratic leaders decided to bring this up for a vote. This would essentially give immigrants who cannot prove legal status in the United States, access to traditional driver's licenses in Massachusetts, as long as they can prove their identity in another way. And there's a list that the legislature has enumerated that includes things like foreign passports, visas, other foreign work documents, things that could prove who they are, but doesn't necessarily prove that they are in this country legally.

The governor vetoed this over his objections to the lack of safeguards in the bill to prevent voter fraud. He was concerned that once people would have access to driver's licenses, that potentially they could then show up with that driver's license at a local voting place and cast a ballot, which the law specifies is not something that would become legal under this law. They also exclude people (who obtain driver's licenses through the so-called Motor Voter Law) from automatically registering as a voter when they apply for and get their license.

Of course, more conservative opponents of this object to the idea of giving people here, potentially illegally in this country, access to the rights and privileges of driving. While proponents say that this is a safety measure, ensuring that people who get in a vehicle and drive around are properly certified, have the training to drive, and, you know, can be tracked by law enforcement, get proper insurance and things of that nature. It appears that opponents have the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot, and this will inject a very interesting element to the fall elections should this appear in November.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: And speaking of November, with all 200 seats in the state legislature on that ballot and with the competitive down ballot races on the Democratic side, are there any notable standouts among those campaigning or messaging that have caught your eye?

Well, not surprisingly, as we've seen in many past years, most of the Legislature is running unopposed. There are a number of vacant seats. Some of this has to do with redistricting. Other competitive races have to do with the fact that we've seen a number of candidates step up to run for statewide office.

One interesting race we're keeping an eye on in the greater Springfield area, is the race to succeed Eric Lesser in the state Senate, who is running for Lieutenant Governor. You have an incumbent Rep. Jacob Olivera, running against Sydney Levin-Epstein. You know, in this race, Levin-Epstein has outraised Rep. Olivera. She is up on TV with ads. You know, it’s very interesting to see the success she is having running against someone who is established in office already. This is an interesting race to watch.

There are also some competitive primaries that have become interesting. One in the Brookline area, Rep. Tommy Vitolo is running against another Democrat from the left (Raul Fernandez) who has the endorsements from people like Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and other prominent Democratic leaders.

The governor's council is getting some attention this cycle, particularly because longtime incumbent Marilyn Devaney from Watertown is facing a challenge from Mara Dolan, an attorney who used to work for Stan Rosenberg in the state Senate. She's now running for the Governor's Council. And this is another race that is worth watching as this is a longtime incumbent facing a pretty serious challenge this cycle.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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