ALBANY PARK — The library of Theodore Roosevelt High School was filled Tuesday with Republicans and Democrats alike, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Republican Governor Jim Edgar, showing support for a bill that will allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.
While it was unclear if the bill had support from the majority of House Republicans, Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) pooh-poohed any possibility that it wouldn't get through the House.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said an earlier version of the bill to expand the Temporary Visitor Driver's License program passed the House, and he expected the same result again. "If the Senate's going to pass a bill, then the House will take it up," Brown said. "The speaker supported the bill previously, and he'll continue to support it."
Pointing to the presence of former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar at Tuesday's rallying news conference, Brown said any efforts to make it a divisive issue are an attempt to "create a bogeyman that doesn't exist."
The bill expands the use of a temporary driver's license, meant for people without Social Security numbers such as resident aliens, to include undocumented immigrants. It would be valid for three years.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) will be introducing the bill in the coming weeks and sees it as both an immigrant's and safety issue. People driving without licenses and insurance cause nearly 80,000 accidents in Illinois each year, according to the Highway Safety Coalition, causing some $660 million in damage.
"These are people who want a license, who want to be tested, who wanted to be legal, but they're not allowed to do so," Cullerton said. "It's very symbolic. but it's also very practical."
Cullerton joked that it was unfortunate that the bill needed the House to pass it, a poke at Republican opposition. But the broader GOP's need to re-evaluate strategy may swing in the bill's favor, said Edgar, who expressed support for the bill.
"[The party needs] to be a lot more sensitive about women's issues, and we need to try to show the Hispanic community we're their friends," the former governor said. "I think there will be more support for this piece of legislation."
State Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) will be sponsoring the bill in the House. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka all came to support the bill. It's expected to pass the Senate in the coming weeks, and Governor Pat Quinn wants to sign it by Jan. 9.
If passed, some 250,000 immigrant drivers without Social Security numbers can obtain a license after passing a test, if they have a passport or consular ID. The license will not be valid as federal ID for travel or entrance into federal buildings.