By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A bill allowing undocumented immigrants an opportunity to obtain Oregon driving privileges is headed to the desk of Gov. John Kitzhaber.
The Oregon House on April 30 passed Senate Bill 833 by a vote of 38-20 after a lengthy floor debate.
The Senate earlier approved the bill.
Kitzhaber issued a statement shortly after the House vote saying he will sign it into law.
Five Republicans were among the 38 to back the bill, including bill co-sponsors Reps. Mark Johnson of Hood River and Vic Gilliam of Silverton.
During the 90-minute floor debate, Gilliam said he wasn't excited with many parts of the bill, but, he said: "I think it is a small step forward in facing reality."
Gilliam said the bill does not address immigration reform, but is narrowly focused to improve road safety by conferring driving privileges to undocumented immigrants who already live and work here.
"For the businesses and farmers that benefit from this bill, I offer my hand," Gilliam said.
Other Republicans spoke against the bill, saying it unfairly confers a privilege to people living illegally in Oregon.
"Our state has determined that driving is a privilege," Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, said. "It is not a right, and we should be very careful about who we allow the privilege of driving on Oregon roads."
"We will vote here on the floor today to reward bad behavior," Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said.
Opponents also said the bill does not guarantee that roads will be safer or that more drivers will be insured.
"Handing out these new cards will not guarantee that the vehicles being driven will be insured," Thatcher said.
Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, another co-sponsor of the bill, closed the floor debate by saying that the bill has "unprecedented support" from a broad coalition of organizations representing agriculture, the faith community, business, labor and the law enforcement and immigrant communities.
In his statement, Kitzhaber said the bill is motivated by a vision "that all Oregonians deserve their shot at the American dream.
"This bill helps create secure jobs with upward income mobility, and supports safe, secure communities where people have a sense of common purpose and commitment to one another," Kitzhaber said.
If signed, the bill's provisions will take effect Jan. 1.