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Renewal ban could backfire

Another example of how passing a law can trigger another one — the law of unintended consequences — came into focus recently when Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo testified at a House committee hearing on a bill passed last session restricting driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

A provision tucked away in the budget bill requires people seeking to renew their Texas driver’s licenses to prove they are in the country legally.

That may strike many as reasonable, but as always, simple solutions don’t fare well when they collide with complex problems.

First, the idea that a law denying people a Texas driver’s license is going to keep them from driving defies the law of human nature. As Acevedo told the committee, illegal immigrants who can’t get their licenses renewed are still driving — but without insurance. “I know from 27 years of policing that it is not in the best interest of public safety to preclude folks from getting a license,” Acevedo told the committee.

The notion of issuing a Texas driver’s license to someone in the country illegally may go down hard, but denying the person a license won’t stop the person from driving.

People seeking to renew a license have to prove they have insurance. Granted, there isn’t a system yet devised that guarantees 100 percent compliance, but the renewal ban obviously can’t guarantee that those denied new driver’s licenses won’t get behind the wheel.

And those who don’t have a valid license or insurance will be most likely to flee the scene of an accident for fear of being detained, Acevedo told the committee.

State Rep. Robert Alonzo, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would repeal the 2011 measure. Alonzo’s bill is obviously going to need Republican support to find traction. As the Austin American-Statesman’s Tim Eaton reported earlier this week, the bill is getting attention from key GOP lawmakers.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and a member of Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, told Eaton he would work with Alonzo to make this bill more attractive to Republicans.

Cook studied ways other states have worked around issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Cook, chairman of the State Affairs Committee, drafted a bill that would have created temporary visitor driving certificates. To qualify for the certificate, applicants would have to prove their identities, get fingerprinted, provide proof of insurance and pass a criminal background check.

Fearing that the certificate idea wouldn’t attract sufficient GOP support, however, Cook never filed his bill.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who authored the 2011 renewal ban, said he would oppose repeal but is open to the certificate idea.

Bill Hammond, a former legislator who heads the Texas Association of Business, however, told Eaton he would support either repealing the 2011 ban or legislation creating the visiting driver’s certificates. The more insured drivers on the road, the better for everyone, Hammond said.

Hammond, Acevedo and Alonzo are right on this issue. Denying someone a drivers’ license renewal doesn’t punish them — they keep driving. The people punished by the ban are those who could become involved in a traffic accident with them.

Austin American-Statesman