Nov 17, 2022 - Politics

The next steps for the new Massachusetts license law

Lines of cars inch down a Massachusetts highway as the sun sets during rush out.

Traffic, our familiar foe. Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Now that voters approved a ballot question keeping a law that lets undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses, Massachusetts transportation officials are updating regulations before the new law takes effect in July 2023.

Driving the news: The Registry of Motor Vehicles released draft recommendations this week and announced a Dec. 2 meeting to discuss changes underway from the new law. 

  • In keeping with the legislation, the RMV recommends having driver's license applicants without legal status prove their identity by submitting two documents from a host of options, including consular IDs and marriage certificates. 
  • The recommendations also require that applicants share their Social Security Number (if they ever had one), proof of being denied an SSN or a notarized attestation declaring they never received a number. 

Of note: The draft recommendations clarify that undocumented immigrants seeking driving privileges in Massachusetts aren't eligible for commercial driver's licenses or credentials to drive school buses.

Why it matters: The RMV has just under eight months to prepare for the new law, which could lead to a flood of driver's license applications from drivers without legal status.

  • MassBudget estimated 45,000-85,000 people would seek licenses over three years, but that doesn't take into account people with temporary protections who might need to seek driver's licenses.
  • The RMV has come under scrutiny over the past decade for long wait times for appointments and a massive backlog of processing out-of-state suspension notices, which came to light after a July 2019 crash in New Hampshire that killed seven motorcyclists. 

Zoom out: Massachusetts is the 17th state to pass a law expanding driver's license access to undocumented immigrants, and the ramp-up comes as Gov.-elect Maura Healey is set to take over the corner office. 

  • "Her administration will work closely with public safety officials, legislators and advocates and will look to other states that have already implemented this law to ensure a smooth and effective process," Karissa Hand, spokesperson for the transition, says in an email statement. 
  • Judi Reardon, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, says the RMV "has a project plan and timeline and will be well prepared for the July 1, 2023 implementation date."

Meanwhile, immigration advocates, including those from the Brazilian Worker Center in Boston, are cautioning people against scams targeting prospective applicants.

  • "We're messaging to immigrant communities that they be cautious of people promising them quick relief of any sort, whether it be licenses or insurance deals," says Frank Soults, spokesperson for the ballot question campaign to retain the law.

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