Debra J. Saunders

The state Assembly is poised to pass a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses.

While they're at it, perhaps Assembly members can vote to erect signs at state borders and airports that say: "Welcome, criminals."

SB60, as passed by the state Senate, prohibits the Department of Motor Vehicles from checking to see if California's newest drivers were ever convicted of murder or other violent crimes. SB60 also would make it illegal for the DMV to share fingerprints with American law enforcement agencies -- unless there's a warrant for a specific individual for a specific offense.

Before the recall qualified, Davis rejected similar bills. Last September, as he was running for re-election, Davis wrote in a veto message that similar legislation wrongly failed to require proof that applicants had jobs and outrageously did not allow authorities to exclude applicants with outstanding warrants for violent or serious crimes. He noted that "a driver's license was in the hands of terrorists who attacked America" on Sept. 11.

Apparently, His Grayness has a new definition for terror: the recall.

Davis recently promised to sign SB60 -- and he didn't insist that this bill address his 2002 concerns.

SB60 author Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, argued Wednesday that the bill is good for California because it will "restore highway safety." Licensed drivers are more likely to get insurance, he claims. New drivers will have to know the rules, pass a test and give their addresses. That's good for public safety.

Except there's no knowing that new licensees would get insurance. "I haven't seen anything that would back up that contention," responded AAA of Northern California spokesman Sean Comey.

And if Sacramento Democrats -- Republicans have rejected SB60 -- really wanted to improve highway safety, the bill should have enhanced the penalties for driving without a license. According to the California Highway Patrol, the penalty is generally a $100 to $200 fine for a first offense and $200 to $500 for a second offense. Cars can be impounded, but the state, according to an official, is "cautious" in doing so. So unlicensed drivers, immigrant or native, can continue to cruise state highways, risking minor inconvenience.

Meanwhile, illegal immigrants will benefit by winning documentation that, according to a Senate analysis of SB60, "will make it easier for them to acquire public benefits and participate in programs that might otherwise be unavailable to them, and it will help them gain access to areas and facilities that require proof of identification."

Debra J. Saunders

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