A proposal to create a restricted driver’s license for Idaho residents who do not have a Social Security number in the United States was introduced in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday by Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon.
Guthrie told the committee Senate Bill 1081 follows a resolution that passed the Idaho Senate in 2021 and would have established an interim committee to study the idea, but that resolution did not receive a hearing in the House. The new legislation would allow a person over the age of 16 to obtain a driver’s license that would only be valid for driving, not for voting, purchasing a firearm, boarding an airplane or obtaining a passport. The license would also be vertical instead of horizontal.
According to information from the Idaho Farm Bureau, restricted driver’s licenses are used in 19 states and territories, and the bill has the support of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the J.R. Simplot Company, the Amalgamated Sugar Company and many other companies across the state. A 2021 report by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations also examined the idea of restricted driver’s licenses in Idaho.
Guthrie said it’s the federal government’s job to grant or deny immigration status, secure the border and regulate entry into the United States, but the government has failed at that job. He recognized that the proposal might rankle some who see illegal immigration as a problem.
“So why, Jim, would you take this action and get more bullets than a bad guy in an action movie?” Guthrie said. “I’ve tried to look at this very pragmatically, and we all know this. Go anywhere, anyplace, people are short on help. They can’t get enough help. … If we’re not willing to recognize the need for foreign-born labor, then maybe we need to consider if we should be looking at importing our food.”
Guthrie said the license would create safer roads since a competency test would be required to obtain the license. The license would also provide “key data points” for law enforcement’s use, Guthrie said.
“Restricted driver’s licenses in English are more useful than a foreign document that an officer might get on scene,” he said.
Bill has the support of Latino organization and Idaho agricultural companies
The license holder would have to verify their identity and residence in Idaho, and the license would have to be renewed every two years with a $50 cost. Revenue of about $867,000 would be expected in the first year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
PODER of Idaho, a nonprofit organization that works with the Latino and immigrant community, expressed support for the bill in a press release. According to the Pew Research Center, Idaho’s undocumented immigrant population is about 35,000 people.
The committee voted to introduce the bill without opposition, and Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said he doesn’t know if this is the solution to the immigration problem, but it warrants a broader discussion.
“As a prosecuting attorney, I have had to prosecute cases that involved people who would get into accidents and take off running because they don’t have a license and insurance, and that leaves Idahoans who have license and insurance in a very bad spot,” Anthon said.
The bill could receive a full committee hearing in the coming weeks of the legislative session.