DENVER (AP) — A proposal to grant driver’s licenses for Colorado drivers in the country illegally is expected to get its first vote Wednesday, and one Republican senator said he’s leaning toward voting in favor of the bill.

The bill highlights a changing opinion from lawmakers about immigration in Colorado, a state that seven years ago passed strict enforcement laws.

Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the sponsor of the bill, argues that the immigrants living in the country are already on Colorado roads, and that it would benefit if they were licensed, carried insurance, and knew the rules of the road.

Mesa County Republican Sen. Steve King, a former police officer, said the proposal could improve public safety, and he’s leaning toward voting yes. However, he said he wouldn’t commit to a vote until he heard all the testimony in committee.

“I was telling Sen. Ulibarri yesterday when he was in my office that in my last six or seven years here in the Legislature, few pieces of legislation had me as conflicted as this one,” King said.

Under the measure, immigrants would have to pass a driver’s license test and prove they’re paying state and federal taxes. They also must show an identification card from their country of origin. Ulibarri said the reason of the qualifying documents is for immigrants to show they are making themselves known to state government.

The licenses would show that the people are not U.S. citizens, so they could not register to vote.

Colorado’s county sheriffs support the bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected hear testimony and take a vote on the bill on Wednesday.

New Mexico, Illinois and Washington currently allow driver’s licenses for those illegally in the country. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can’t be used for identification.

Colorado Republicans argue the bill goes too far and that state lawmakers should wait for action by the federal government. King said he understands his colleagues’ concerns and knows that some of his constituents may not agree with him.

“I understand where the far right is coming from with the fact that these people have violated the laws of the United States and no one’s above the law,” he said. “But when it comes to priorities, the health and safety of the people I represent is number one on that list.”

King also said he understands the concerns related to voter fraud.

“I think Sen. Ulibarri has gone a long way toward addressing those concerns,” King said.

Supporters of the driver’s license bill said public opinion on illegal immigration in Colorado is changing.

In 2006, Democrats joined Republicans in passing a strict package of immigration laws, including barring non-emergency benefits to those in the country illegally. Lawmakers also passed a requirement for law enforcement to report to federal immigration officials people they arrest who are suspected of being in the country illegally. A bill to repeal that law this year has gone to the governor’s desk.

By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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