- If the bill becomes law, Georgia would likely be the first state with ‘ineligible voter’ on licenses
- The House would have to pass HB 324 on Friday for the bill to stay alive
“When I pick up my children from day care, I have to show them my ID,” said Palacios, 27. If this bill becomes law, “they might assume that I’m an undocumented immigrant and treat me differently.”
If passed, Georgia likely would become the first state to put “ineligible voter” on certain driver’s licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Georgia bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alan Powell, a Republican, said he just wants to make IDs less confusing.
“Under the current driver’s license system, if you’re not a citizen, then it has the term ‘term-limited,'” Powell said.
“One of the things that has bothered me for quite a while is … what does ‘limited-term’ mean to the average citizen that sees a driver’s license?”
So what’s this debate really about? Depends on who you ask.
Not just voting concerns
Powell said the point of the bill is “just clearly a way of stating the fact that someone is not eligible to vote, or that driver’s license can’t be used for some other purpose other than for driving privileges.”
But Rep. Gloria Frazier, a Democrat who is also a member of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, said there are already safeguards to prevent noncitizens from voting.
“If they go to register to vote, (and) their name is not on the list, they already have a mechanism in place to check whether you are an eligible voter,” she said.
But the concerns extend beyond just voting.
Republican Rep. J. Collins said there are business reasons for clearly seeing whether someone is a US citizen on his or her driver’s license.
“If you own a business in this state, and you’re going to take a check from someone … nine times out of 10 you ask for a driver’s license,” said Collins, a member of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
“I’m going to look at that driver’s license and think, ‘Hey, this person lives right around the corner.’ (But) I may or may not take that check if they’re not a US citizen. I’m assuming a lot of liability as a business owner if I do that, if they’re not a US citizen.”
Palacios said that notion doesn’t make sense — especially because you have to be documented to get a license in Georgia.
Jensohai Reyes is a DACA recipient. He said he worries that if his license describes him as a noncitizen, he might get treated differently by an officer if he gets pulled over.
“Not every cop is like that,” Reyes said, but “if a cop stops me, and he asks for my license, and he sees ‘noncitizen,’ depending on how he feels politically is how he’ll treat me.”
New phrase is ‘kinder, gentler’
“That seemed to have stirred a lot of ire,” he said.
Soon, Powell’s phone was flooded with calls — including one from a green card holder with a story that surprised him.
The young man “assured me that as a noncitizen, that he didn’t have a problem with the concept of what I was talking about doing,” Powell said.
“The reason he thought we needed to put this in was because when he got his driver’s license, he said he almost had to get into a fight to keep from being registered to vote, even though he informed them numerous times that he wasn’t voter-eligible.”
But the caller did request one change:
“His suggestion to me was instead of using the term, ‘noncitizen,’ to use the term ‘noneligible voter’ or ‘ineligible voter’ — that that would seem … more acceptable to a lot of folks.”
So Powell changed “noncitizen” to “ineligible voter.” He said he thought the new phrase would be viewed as a “kinder and gentler” alternative.
But wouldn’t that switch also affect thousands of felons who have lost their voting rights?
Bill could evaporate
HB 324 passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee this week by a split vote. The next step is the Rules Committee, which would decide whether the bill gets to the full House.
But time’s running out.
Powell did not return CNN’s request for comment Thursday on whether he intends to make that request Friday.
CNN’s Lindsey Knight and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.