Transportation and Telecommunications

Driving card proposed for some documented non-citizens

Certain federally authorized, non-citizen Nebraska residents could qualify for a driving privilege card under a bill considered Feb. 14 by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

LB199, introduced by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would create a new driving privilege card, which would serve as a license to operate a motor vehicle for individuals who are non-citizens but whose presence in the U.S. is authorized by the federal government.

Cards would be issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and would include information indicating that the cards are not valid for federal purposes or as photo ID for voting.

Brewer said current state law prohibits many Ukrainian refugees from obtaining a license, despite the fact that many of them were drivers — including some individuals who held commercial driver’s licenses — before coming to the U.S.

“We’re trying to make a category to put them in so that they can have a license and have a life here doing the things that they need to do in order to be productive,” Brewer said.

Nick Grandgenett, testifying on behalf of Nebraska Appleseed, supported the bill. He said most Nebraska residents, including Ukrainian refugees, need to drive to get to work, take kids to school and accomplish other daily tasks. The roads are safest when all drivers are licensed and insured, he said.

“Without LB199, community members are put in the untenable position of choosing between going to work or choosing work that doesn’t require a commute,” Grandgenett said.

Maksym Byesyedin, a Ukrainian refugee who came to the U.S. eight months ago, also supported the bill. Byesyedin said he needs a driver’s license to be able to meet his basic needs and those of his family, including going to work, medical appointments and the grocery store. His job at a sewage pipe company is not accessible by public transportation, he said.

“My colleague has graciously agreed to pick me up from home in the morning and bring me home after work,” Byesyedin said, “but one way or another, it can’t go on like this forever.”

Katie Patrick, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska, testified in favor of the bill. CSS is one of three agencies in the state that provides immediate services to refugees, she said, most recently humanitarian refugees from Ukraine.

“While many of these services are provided by our staff in the first few weeks of arrival, how clients continue to access services is really dependent on their ability to drive to our offices,” Patrick said.

Testifying in a neutral capacity was Rhonda Lahm, director of the state Department of Motor Vehicles. She said the bill as written could open the door for other non-Real ID compliant documents to be issued in Nebraska to numerous classifications of individuals.

Lahm recommended that the committee consider including a provision that would authorize a fee for the driving privilege card. She also requested that the date for card activation be set at July 1, 2024, to allow sufficient implementation time.

No one testified in opposition to LB199 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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