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Senate committee defeats driver's license bill
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Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, center, he'll use procedural motions to try to get the bill passed. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The Senate Crime Prevention Committee has defeated a bill that would allow the commissioner of public safety to stamp the driver's licenses of temporary immigrants with their visa expiration dates. Supporters say the bill would give public safety officials the ability to identify whether a temporary immigrant has overstayed his or her visa. The provision is a top priority of both Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans.

St. Paul, Minn. — Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, says he won't give up on the bill just because it was defeated on a voice vote in committee. He says he'll use procedural motions to try to get the bill passed. He says he might amend it to another bill or bring it up on the Senate floor. Kleis says the bill is too important for public safety and to prevent identity fraud.

"I absolutely will not give up on this issue. Most Minnesotans have an expectation that this is already the case, whether their driver's licenses have some validity as far as how you get it. Most Minnesotans believe if you are a temporary visitor in Minnesota, your driver's licenses shouldn't be able to go beyond the time that you're able to stay in this country," according to Kleis.

Marking a driver's license will do nothing to protect Americans from terror, but it will inflict terror on those whose lives are already marginalized.
- Rabbi Morris Allen

The public safety department enacted the policy last year after the Legislature failed to reach agreement on the measure. Earlier this month the Minnesota Court of Appeals struck down part of the law. The judge argued that the department didn't effectively address "a serious and immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare." The ruling has been appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Critics, however, continue to argue that the bill unfairly labels immigrants. Rabbi Morris Allen, of Mendota Heights, says he's against the bill because it unfairly targets immigrants.

"Marking a driver's license will do nothing to protect Americans from terror, but it will inflict terror on those whose lives are already marginalized. It will inflict fear on those whose voice is easily dismissed," Allen says.

Both Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans say the bill is one of their top priorities. They say opponents of the bill are distorting its effects on the immigrant community.

Public Safety Commissioner Rich Stanek says it's a common-sense proposal to help law enforcement deal with potential terrorists inside the state's borders. He says the department will still move forward with the rules since they are under appeal.

"We will continue to see this through the legislative process. We don't think it's dead yet, per se. We're hoping that the full Senate gets a vote. The House has passed this on a bipartisan overwhelming majority vote," Stanek says.

The Senate Crime Prevention Committee, however, wants to limit Stanek's rule-making authority. On a divided voice vote, the committee approved a bill that would remove Stanek's ability to issue the rules.

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Image Sen. Jane Ranum

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, says the bill is only a "security blanket" for a public that's nervous about terrorism and the war with Iraq.

"The more I have learned about the legislation and the proposal by the Department of Public Safety over the last year is this feel good. This is not about a real response to dealing with terrorism," Ranum says.

Ranum and other Senate DFLers presented their own anti-terrorism proposals at an earlier news conference. They say they would like to restore cuts to Crimnet, the state's public safety information system and provide money for public safety training. Ranum also says she'd like to accelerate the state's plans to create a statewide emergency radio system. She says Gov. Pawlenty has cut or is proposing cuts of up to $10 million in anti-terrorism projects.

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