Tennessee Jobs Now, a SuperPAC that supports Randy Boyd in the Tennessee Governor’s race, has been running a television commercial that hits Diane Black for a 2001 vote as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly that resulted in illegal aliens being able to get driver licenses.
Black does not deny that she voted for the bill, SB1266, nor does she deny that the result of the bill was that it allowed illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses in Tennessee.
She has subsequently explained that the result that illegal aliens were able to obtain drivers licenses in Tennessee after the law was passed was “an unintended consequence of a bill that was supposed to allow legal immigrants to get licenses.”
A cursory reading of SB1266, as it was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Sundquist, does not give the impression its purpose was to allow illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses. Indeed, the words “illegal,” “alien,” “immigrant,” “documented immigrant,” and “undocumented immigrant” appear nowhere in the law:
SB1266, An Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 55-50-321, relative to information required to be submitted to obtain a driver license
Section 1: Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 55-50-321(c)(1), is amended by inserting the language “if the applicant has been issued a security number,” between the language “social security number,” and the words “and whether”.
Section 2: Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 55-50-321(c) is amended by designating subdivision (1) as subdivision (1)(A) and by adding the following as subdivision (1)(B)
(B) Any applicant who does not have, or who states that the applicant has never been issued, a social security number required by subdivision (1)(A) shall complete an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, affirming that the applicant has never been issued a social security number.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becomeing a law, the public welfare requiring it.
You can read SB1266, passed by the Tennessee General Assembly on April 23, 2001 and signed into law by Gov. Sundquist on May 3 2001, here:pc0158
The Tennessee Star has obtained the audio recording of the 2001 bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory), who made his case for the bill on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representative just prior to its passage.
A transcript of Turner’s comments to his colleagues in the House–one of whom was then State Rep. Diane Black–clearly shows that he represented the bill as intended to allow a “properly documented immigrant to come to this country and obtain a driver license in Tennessee.”
You can read the transcript of Turner’s comments below:
Mr. Speaker this bill does a couple of things. One thing it does is it takes it back to 1995. Prior to 1995, an immigrant could come to this country and get a drivers license. In 1995, the uh, the federal government passed a law that in order to get a drivers license you had to have a social security number. They passed that law having nothing to do with immigration. They passed that law to track down deadbeat dads. If you were a deadbeat dad and walked out on your family here in Tennessee and moved to California, they’d have a way to tracking you.
The other states around us, including North Carolina and Georgia, interpreted the bill the proper way, we interpreted it the wrong way. We’re supposed to interpret it if you’ve ever had a social security number you’re supposed to put it down there.
This bill does two things – it allows an immigrant to come to this country, a properly documented immigrant to come to this country and obtain a driver license in Tennessee.
It also protects the citizens of Tennessee out there on the street driving. It makes sure that the people driving up and down on our roads know our laws, can read the signs and makes our highway safer for our families.
That’s what this bill essentially does. That’s when I first noticed this bill that as a firefighter I saw more and more wrecks with people from other countries who just didn’t know our laws. They come to this country to work they come to drive in this country. That’s what this bill does Mr. Speaker.
You can hear the actual audio recording of those comments here below:
When Turner was asked again whether the bill would “keep an illegal immigrant from getting a driver license” the answer was the same – “This bill is designed to help properly documented illegal aliens, illegals, nah, legals, excuse me I’m sorry, legals here.”
You can read the transcript of those comments by Turner here:
Just one question – how would it keep an illegal immigrant from getting a driver license? Would this bill keep them from getting a license?
This bill is designed to help properly documented illegal aliens, illegals, nah, legals, excuse me I’m sorry, legals here. If you’re an illegal person you possibly could if you’re determined to do that but you can do that now if want to forge the papers to get a social security number you can draw a license now. But I don’t think in talking with law enforcement agencies across this state and other people I don’t believe that an illegal immigrant is going to walk into a highway patrol station with people with badges and guns and say here I am. I don’t think they’ll take a chance on that.
You can listen to those comments by Turner here:
A more careful reading of SB1266, as proposed and passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, clearly begged the following question:
What is to prevent an illegal alien from swearing under oath they have never been issued a social security number, and, based on that statement, to be issued a Tennessee Drivers License?
The answer, as it turned out in practice, was nothing at all.
Monica Whitaker, a staff reporter for The Tennessean, was able to make that connection immediately in an article she wrote on April 24, 2001, the day after the bill passed the Tennessee General Assembly, and more than a week before Gov. Sundquist signed the bill.
“Legal and illegal immigrants should be able to get a Tennessee driver’s license, even if they cannot produce a Social Security number, a majority of state lawmakers agreed yesterday,” Whitaker wrote in the article titled “Drivers License Law Easing for Aliens; Legislators Put Motorists’ Safety over Legal Status of Immigrants.”
“Despite objections, primarily from Republican senators, bills passed in the House and Senate enabling driver’s license testing stations to accept other forms of identification when someone applies for a license,” she continued.
According to Whitaker, “Senators approved the measure 19-10, The House approved it 69-21 with six members present but not voting.
You can read part of that April 24, 2001 article in The Tennessean by Monica Whitaker here:
Citing Whitaker’s article in The Tennessean, Judge Mary Celeste, wrote in the Spring 2001 edition of Court Review that “In Tennessee, the legislature passed a bill eliminating the need for a Social Security card as the only means of securing a state driver’s license. The expanded identification options in Tennessee now include Immigration and Naturalization Service documents, resident alien cards, and military papers issued by a foreign country.”
“A new Tennessee law allows people who don’t have a Social Security number to get a driver’s license, meaning that illegal immigrants by the thousands have the opportunity to get state-issued identification,” Fox News reported on June 4, 2001, a month after Gov. Sundquist signed the bill into law.
Two years after the Turner bill, SB 1266, passed and was signed into law by Gov. Sundquist in 2001, Black co-sponsored a bill prohibiting the Mexican matricula consular document from being used as proof of identity when applying for a state driver license. That bill was signed into law and remains the law in Tennessee.
During this year’s legislative session representatives from the TN Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) admitted to a legislative committee that immigrants who primarily rely on the matricula consular card are “people who do not have immigration status.”
Without valid proof of identity as determined by state law or a drivers license, illegal aliens driving without either are at risk for arrest. Protectionist immigration lawyers like Elliott Ozment in Nashville have repeatedly warned that an illegal alien driving without a license can end up in deportation proceedings.