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Ballot question aimed at drivers license bill

Voters will likely decide whether undocumented can obtain licenses

Anna Lamb

Earlier this summer, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain legal driver’s licenses. Now, that legislation is threatened as Republican opponents have surpassed the number of signatures required to get a ballot measure in front of voters this November asking for their final say.

In June, Democratic senators voted 32-8 to override a veto by Governor Charlie Baker, passing legislation allowing immigrants to obtain licenses, given that they provide the necessary documentation showing residency in Massachusetts, starting next summer. The new law, dubbed the Work and Family Mobility Act, would not allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to keep documentation related to immigration status.

Supporters of the bill say that it would increase road safety and would eliminate the incentive for drivers afraid of being deported to flee the scene of an accident. However, opponents have become increasingly vocal in recent months, speaking out against non-citizens getting licenses and creating a petition in hopes to roll back the measure.

The group at the forefront of the opposition is the GOP-aligned Fair and Secure Massachusetts Coalition, headed by Maureen Maloney, who said she has taken up the crusade after her son was killed by a drunk driver without legal immigration status in 2011.

“The issue with providing them licenses — it’s a magnet. It’s another reason to bring them to Massachusetts,” she told the Boston Herald in June.

Maloney was recruited to be the face of the movement by conservative gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, who has continued to make immigration a centerpiece of his Trump-backed campaign and has spread fear of a ‘migrant wave’ if the license legislation is to move forward.

The group’s petition has reached the threshold of 40,120 signatures to get their referendum on the ballot, with supporters gathering signatures at stands outside supermarkets across the state. MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons told GBH news that the group probably has even more signatures — closer to 50,000.

A spokesperson for Fair and Secure Massachusetts said the group is looking to gather a grand total of more than 60,000 signatures before the deadline this week.

The measure now faces a final check by Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office to ensure signatures aren’t duplicated and that it meets requirements such as the statute requiring that no more than a quarter of signatures can be from a single county.

Coalition members have continued to spread the rhetoric that Massachusetts voters don’t support the driver’s license bill, citing a June WCVB and UMass Amherst study that showed 46% of 1,000 people surveyed opposing the new law — which allows immigrants without legal status to apply for a standard state driver’s license beginning July 1, 2023 — and 40% supporting it.

An editorial published in the Boston Herald earlier this month praising the advancement of the petition states, “What happens when a law favored by legislators doesn’t reflect the will of constituents? They pass it anyway.”

Progressive lawmakers have denied that accusation, doubling down on its merit.

“This is a well-vetted piece of legislation. We’ve gained support from a wide range of stakeholders over the course of a number of years,” lead sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton told reporters back in June.

However, if the referendum does make it to the ballot, it’s unclear what the outcome will be. The margin of support for the measure has continued to be slim on a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, this month showing about 58% of 569 registered voters surveyed expressing support for the measure, compared to 46% surveyed by the same team in May.

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition Executive Director Elizabeth Sweet said she’s confident that given the choice, voters will support the bill.

“The Work and Family Mobility Act makes our communities safer, builds trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and benefits our economy. Members of the diverse and united Driving Families Forward coalition have fought tirelessly for nearly 20 years to allow individuals to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, and we will continue to fight for this reform as long as it takes,” she said. “If the issue hits the ballot on November 6, we’re confident the voters of Massachusetts will resoundingly agree with us.”