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State closer to immigrant license showdown

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press

DENVER — The Colorado Legislature moved closer Thursday to a partisan showdown over granting driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally.

The GOP Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill blocking money for the state agency that oversees driver’s licenses.

The state Department of Revenue has asked budget writers for permission to spend about $166,000 that it has already collected from immigrants who have paid for licenses, driving permits and identification cards.

The program receives no state funding and is operated through user fees. Republicans have blocked the spending of the fees to sustain the program, despite Democratic complaints that the money has already been paid by the immigrants.

“It is fundamentally unfair for people who have followed the rules” and paid fees for licenses, said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster.

Republicans insisted that they should use their new majority in the Senate to block a policy they oppose.

When the Legislature voted in 2013 to allow driver’s licenses for immigrants without permission to be in the country, Republicans didn’t have the votes to stop it. This year Republicans control the state Senate by a single seat, their first Senate majority in a decade.

Republicans called it wrong to reduce backlogs for issuing licenses to the immigrants.

“When they came here, they did not come here legally. That’s what we’re talking about,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

One of the Republican budget-writers said the GOP isn’t obligated to help implement policies passed under Democrats.

“I for one did not come here to rubber-stamp,” said Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City.

Without the money, the department has said it may need to reduce the offices that process the licenses from five statewide to one. The impact on Western Slope residents is that they will have to go to Denver rather than Grand Junction for appointments to get the licenses. The state also is rescheduling about 8,000 appointments at the offices other than the one that will remain open.

The Senate has one more procedural vote before sending the measure to the House. The Democratic House is likely to amend the measure to get the money, setting up a partisan showdown.

One Democrat warned Senate Republicans that because the budget-writing committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the license impasse could presage a prickly legislative session.

“This scares me to death,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “I think we’re going down a dangerous path here. And two people can play this game.”


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