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Sunday, Oct 06 2013 11:01 PM

ERNIE GUTIERREZ: Safe and Responsible Driver Act benefits all Californians

For a state that often is at the forefront of progressive laws, giving the right to obtain a driver's license to undocumented immigrants took a long time: 15 years to be exact.

And in those 15 years, nine other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

However, the wait is finally over. California has become the 10th state to allow undocumented men and women the right to legally obtain a driver's license.

California's AB 60, known as the Safe and Responsible Driver Act, allows undocumented immigrants the chance to obtain a driver's license. The state Assembly approved the bill on a 55-19 vote in mid-September, a few hours after the Senate passed it by a 28-8 count.

California Gov. Jerry Brown strongly favored the bill and signed it into law Thursday. "This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally. Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due," Brown said in a prepared statement.

Immigration reform still remains a divided battleground nationwide. But giving the undocumented the right to drive legally is a huge step forward. In California alone, passing AB 60 could allow approximately 2 million people with proper identification the right to apply for a license.

This has long been the dream of former state Sen. Gil Cedillo, who began working on the initiative in 1998. Yet to Cedillo's dismay, the driver's license bill failed to pass eight times. And several times the legislature passed the bill, only to see it vetoed by both Republican and Democratic governors.

This time around, in the final analysis, the bill had very few official detractors. The California Police Chiefs Association lent its support; the California State Sheriffs' Association remained neutral.

For many people in the Latino community, the passage of AB 60 is not a perfect solution, yet it is a major step in the right direction for many reasons. And one of the biggest reasons is safety for everyone who travels California's roadways.

Now the undocumented will receive the proper driver's training, be held accountable for knowing the rules of the road and can purchase car insurance as well.

Overall, it's a great advancement for public safety.

Individuals will no longer have to fear driving to work or doing every day tasks, like grocery shopping or taking their children to school and back.

Obtaining a driver's license is particularly important in so many parts of the state where there is little public transportation, particularly for farm workers in rural areas. And people who have had their cars confiscated because they couldn't get a driver's license will not face that crisis.

Although the Safe and Responsible Driver Act took far too long to be implemented, the end result has righted a wrong. It is a step forward for California citizens and businesses, allowing hard-working men and women the opportunity to legally drive to their jobs without fear or ramifications.

Ernie Gutierrez of San Diego is chairman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and CEO of Allied Industries Inc., the 16th-largest Hispanic-owned business in California. Visit www.cahcc.com.

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