Following a Republican filibuster that stretched on for more than seven and a half hours, the state House of Representatives approved a bill just after dawn on Thursday that offers undocumented immigrants the opportunity to obtain a Connecticut drivers license.
 
The  74 to 55 vote broke along party lines, with all the Republican members of the House voting no and all but nine  Democrats voting yes. Twenty one members did not vote. The measure now moves to the state Senate, where it has a powerful advocate in Majority Leader Martin Looney. If approved, Connecticut would be the first state in the Northeast to enact such a policy, though four other states — Utah, New Mexico, Washington and Illinois — have enacted similar laws.
 
The bill would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain Connecticut drivers licenses beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Supporters – including Catholic priests and other clergy, union activists and state Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Melody Currey – say it’s a matter of public safety as well as fairness.
 
An estimated 54,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state could qualify for drivers licenses under the provisions of the bill. Many of them live in fear that a minor traffic transgression could result in deportation. Allowing these immigrants to obtain a license means they would be trained and tested, just as other motorists are, and would be required to carry automobile insurance
 
Rep. Juan Candelaria, the New Haven Democrat who is the measure’s chief proponent in the House, said the bill would “benefit everyone in this room and every resident of the state because…the next time you see a car passing you by, you will know that that individual has a drivers license, that that vehicle is registered and insured.”
In order to obtain a license, applicants would have to show identification, which could include a foreign passport, an unexpired consular identification document or a consular report of birth abroad. Applicants also would be required to provide documentation that they have lived in Connecticut for at least 90 days.
 
Licenses would be valid for driving only; they could not be used for identification for voting or other purposes. And anyone convicted of a felony in Connecticut would be barred from obtaining such a license.
 
Republicans questioned whether the licenses could be used for fraud and invoked the spectre of terrorism. Rep. Dan Carter of Bethel asked whether the proposal makes sense “in a post -9/11 world.”
 
Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, asserted that she needs “more documentation to get a cell phone” than the state Department of Motor Vehicles would require the undocumented immigrants to present.
 
Other GOP lawmakers said cost was a factor: the state would earn money from additional fees paid by the new drivers, but it would also have to hire more staff to handle the influx. 
 
The debate began shortly after 10 p.m. and continued through the overnight hours, culminating with the vote at 5:45 a.m. Much of the House Republican caucus spoke against the bill, which they suggested Democrats, who hold a majority in the chamber, were rushing to push in a quest to score points with immigrant activists.