The Post ed­i­to­rial: Our de­spi­ca­ble li­cense pro­gram

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Too of­ten any­more stri­dent ad­her­ence to ide­ol­ogy gets in the way of rea­son­able think­ing. Take Colorado’s shame­ful han­dling of its fledg­ling driver’s li­cense pro­gram for those liv­ing — and driv­ing — in the coun­try il­le­gally.

This is a smart pro­gram, or it should have been. By giv­ing those here il­le­gally the chance to prove their abil­ity to com­ply with the rules of the road, all of us are safer. The li­censes are specif­i­cally marked to note the holder isn’t a U.S. ci­ti­zen and can­not be used to grant vot­ing priv­i­leges in our lo­cal and na­tional elec­tions. To fund the pro­gram with­out bur­den to tax­pay­ers, the state charges $50 more per li­cense. More than 120,000 peo­ple are el­i­gi­ble. If ever there was the po­ten­tial for a self­sus­tain­ing pro­gram, this is one.

But for three years now, the pro­gram has been cru­elly stymied by a lack of au­tho­rized fund­ing. Each leg­isla­tive ses­sion, con­ser­va­tive hard­lin­ers al­low only a frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion to be served by set­ting overly tight spend­ing al­lowances. So in­stead of plan­ning for 120,000 ap­pli­cants, the state struc­tures its ap­point­ments for the li­censes to al­low but a trickle.

The re­sult is that only a few of the state’s 50-plus li­cens­ing cen­ters have been avail­able to a frac­tion of those who need the li­censes. What started as five of­fices of­fer­ing 155 ap­point­ments a day for ap­pli­cants has dwin­dled to three of­fices of­fer­ing a mere 93 slots a day. Gain­ing an ap­point­ment is a months-long night­mare. Preda­tors have risen up try­ing to trick would-be ap­pli­cants into pay­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars for a slot.

It gets worse. By next year, only one of­fice will of­fer the li­censes, as The Den­ver Post’s Jesse Paul re­ported re­cently. And be­cause the li­censes are only good for three years, within the next few months about 11,000 of those able to gain the li­censes so far will be cast to the back of that clogged line to await re­newal. There they will only fur­ther re­duce the avail­abil­ity for peo­ple ap­ply­ing for the first time.

From Au­gust of 2014, when the pro­gram went live, to the end of May, the state is­sued 32,325 li­censes and 51 re­newals.

Imag­ine, in the Trump era, what panic this pop­u­la­tion feels. Imag­ine the temp­ta­tion to flee po­lice and en­dan­ger other driv­ers when con­fronted by oth­er­wise nor­mal traf­fic vi­o­la­tion sit­u­a­tions. That fear would be greatly re­duced by en­sur­ing un­doc­u­mented in­di­vid­u­als at least have a doc­u­ment that al­lows le­gal driv­ing.

We get it that im­mi­gra­tion hard­lin­ers want noth­ing to do with the pro­gram, and their rea­son­ing isn’t com­pletely faulty. The harder you make life for the pop­u­la­tion, the less at­trac­tive cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally be­comes.

But if we are known in part by how we treat the least ad­van­taged among us, then this pro­gram’s ad­min­is­tra­tion sug­gests Colorado law­mak­ers have a lot of soulsearch­ing to do. And if that ar­gu­ment is too Pollyanna, what about the fact that the pro­gram is part of Colorado state law? Isn’t sup­port­ing the rule of law a con­ser­va­tive value?

Mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans and Democrats who have sup­ported the pro­gram from the start ought to find a way to pres­sure the hard­lin­ers into al­low­ing the pro­gram to be funded by the fees it would gen­er­ate from those pay­ing to use it. The gover­nor ought to force the is­sue.

In a state as large and ge­o­graph­i­cally di­verse as Colorado, the metro area’s tran­sit sys­tem is hardly suf­fi­cient to sup­port this pop­u­la­tion.

For the safety of all driv­ers, the un­con­scionable han­dling of this pro­gram should be re­formed, and rea­son­ably funded.

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