One Senate bill and two House bills threaten to waste more than $1 million in state taxpayer dollars to change driver’s license and identification cards issued to immigrants, including refugees and legal permanent residents. If any of these bills pass, Georgia will spend valuable time and money tilting at windmills, while taking an unwelcoming stance regarding immigrant students, workers and business leaders.

Senate Bill 161 calls for the state to design and produce new driver’s licenses and ID cards to replace the ones now in use by non-citizen Georgians. The bill distinguishes the new cards from others issued in Georgia with a vertical instead of a horizontal orientation. House bills 136 and 324 call for the state to add a new label to temporary driver’s licenses, permits and ID cards issued to Georgians who are not U.S. citizens. The bills would add the term “noncitizen” in a prominent location on the card.

Producing special driver’s licenses and ID cards for immigrants comes at substantial cost, a point I raised last year when a like-minded proposal emerged targeting immigrants.  Design and printing costs for new driver’s licenses could easily total more than $1 million, based on costs from other states. The $1 million doesn’t even cover the expense of creating procedures, training staff and executing contracts.

The bills’ supporters argue a new label or a redesign of the driver’s licenses and ID cards for immigrants is needed to avoid confusion with the cards issued to other Georgia residents. The dubious justification for the stigmatized IDs is that new terms or a redesign will help prevent voter fraud and increase public safety. In reality these bills are just a way to throw taxpayer dollars at unproven problems while singling out people lawfully present in the state.

The driver’s licenses and ID cards of Georgians who are not U.S. citizens already contain the words “limited-term” to distinguish them from other cards. Georgians with lawful status using these ID cards include permanent residents, refugees and foreign executives temporarily working in Georgia. People who attain lawful immigration status must pass background checks in which U.S. officials scrutinize whether they pose a threat to public safety. The notion of wide-scale voter fraud by immigrants is widely discredited by experts studying the issue and Georgia’s own elections chief.

Nonetheless, three Georgia bills stand to throw away more than $1 million in taxpayer money. Lawmakers can take time to consider the examples of other states that considered this issue. Colorado officials projected a cost of $390,000 to design a new card for noncitizens, while Nevada estimated that its design costs at $75,000. Identification cards in other states cost an estimated $3 per card to produce, which would rack up about $663,000 in costs here if the 221,000 Georgians who are not U.S. citizens and drive to work alone every day are required to carry one. Additional costs are also likely in order to produce new licenses and ID cards for Georgia immigrants who either do not drive or carpool to work. Add to that other administrative expenses associated with each bill’s implementation, including processing costs, training and contract negotiation.

Supporters of these bills might claim these costs will be partially offset with revenues from license and ID card fees, but the bill for the fixed design and training costs comes due well before revenues from these fees might help recapture them.

Last year at this time Georgia lawmakers shelved a costly proposal to alter driver’s licenses for a small subset of immigrants. Bills introduced this year are more wasteful than ever and deserve even more skepticism than before. They belong in the same dustbin.

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Melissa Johnson
Melissa Johnson joined GBPI in 2012 as a policy analyst responsible for analyzing Georgia budget and policy decisions in the areas of poverty reduction, social services, and workforce supports. Within these areas, Melissa’s priorities include state and federal safety net programs, Unemployment Insurance, vocational rehabilitation programs, and child welfare programs. Melissa holds a Juris Doctor from Emory University in addition to a MBA and Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

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