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HB 302 Would Make Roads Less Safe By Requiring Driver’s License Tests in English Only

The anti-immigrant bills continue to be introduced in the Montana Legislature. Rep. Janna Taylor (a Republican) introduced a mean-spirited and pointless bill that would restrict driver’s license tests to English only. This bill won’t save any money, time or resources. This bill succeeds in only one thing — marginalizing non-English speakers. Beartooth NBC did a story on this bill.

The State of Montana already administers the written exam in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. The state already has the computer system to do this, and it costs us nothing to continue to use that system. There is a reason why we require drivers to take a test and be licensed: To make our streets safer. Whether the test is given in Spanish, Russian, or Chinese, it’s the same test. It ensures that the driver understands how to obey the rules of the road.

As far as I know, the driving test itself is only conducted in English. Therefore, a driver would still have to demonstrate his or her capacity to follow the rules in English. If they can’t, I would assume they would fail the driving test. There is simply no reason to restrict the test to English only. You would only be creating the risk that non-English speaking drivers would drive without a license.

In addition to being deeply misguided, this bill is also a non-issue. I believe that very few non-English speakers are taking the test in their native language.

It should be noted that this is not about ensuring that drivers are legally authorized to be here in the country. That is already a requirement for a license. This is targeting lawful residents who simply want to drive. Only a handful of states have passed a law like this. We don’t need to be one of them.

Let’s concentrate on what matters to the people of the State of Montana and set aside divisive bills like this, which are only distractions from what we elected our representatives to do.

Testimony in Opposition to HB 274, the “Report Your Neighbors” Bill

I previously posted a video of the proponent testimony in favor of HB 274, a bill that would encourage Montanans to report their neighbors to the authorities on suspicion that they are not authorized for employment. In their testimony, the proponents clearly demonstrated the risk that racial profiling and xenophobia would result in baseless complaints.

I have now compiled a video of our opposition testimony.

The proponents of HB 274 explain, with their own words, why the bill would be harmful to Montanans.

Some of the testimony that came out at yesterday’s hearing on HB 274 must be seen to be believed.  These anti-immigrant bills don’t reflect Montana’s values, and its important for Montanans to know what is happening at the legislature.  Watch the video below, and share this link with your friends.

Proposed Bill to Exclude Immigrants from Worker’s Compensation Threatens Safety of All Montana Workers

Yesterday, Rep. Gordon Vance proposed HB 71, a bill that would prevent certain immigrants from being able to collect worker’s compensation benefits if they are injured on the job.  As discussed below, this bill threatens the safety of all workers in Montana.  I testified against this bill, along with the Montana Human Rights Network and the ACLU, among others.  Emilie Ritter, with Montana Public Radio, prepared a radio story on this harmful bill, and included some of my testimony in the report.  John Adams from the Great Falls Tribune also wrote about the bill and quoted from my testimony.

The following are my arguments against the bill:

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:

  • I oppose this bill, because it would create a perverse incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers.
    • Current law states that claims must be paid to “aliens and minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.”  MCA § 39-71-118(a).  To ensure the safety of the workplace, the law was designed to ensure that all workers were covered by worker’s compensation.
    • Eliminating worker’s compensation to “unauthorized aliens” will do nothing to deter employers from hiring unauthorized workers.  Instead, it would actually create an incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire such workers, because they won’t have to worry about worker’s compensation claims being made against them.
    • This would decrease workplace safety for all employees. If the employer pays less attention to workplace safety for unauthorized aliens who cannot recover benefits, this would impact the safety of other authorized employees as well.
    • Imagine a construction company that works in dangerous conditions.  If that business has experienced several injuries and its worker’s compensation premiums have gone up, it might have an incentive to knowingly hire unauthorized workers who can’t make worker’s compensation claims.
    • This bill has the potential to create a class of “disposable” workers who are sent to work in dangerous conditions without fear for their safety.
  • This bill would harm employers as well as workers.
    • Worker’s compensation claims are considered an “exclusive remedy,” meaning that an injured worker cannot sue in court for personal injury.  They have no choice but to go through the worker’s compensation system.
    • If aliens are excluded from this scheme, they will have no choice but to sue employers in court for personal injury.  This would result in costly litigation.
  • The Department has no expertise in immigration law, and is not qualified to determine whether an employee is an “unauthorized alien.”
    • There is no law stating that the Department of Homeland Security has to check into requests by the state to confirm lawful status.  How will insurance companies make their determinations that someone is unauthorized?  They are not qualified to make such determinations.
  • The language of this bill also creates significant ambiguity as to which aliens are covered by worker’s compensation.  It seems to indicate that many aliens who are lawfully present with work authorization actually won’t be covered.
  • There is simply no need for this bill.
    • When an employer hires an employee, federal law requires the employer to verify employment authorization.  If an employer hires an unauthorized alien, that alien is their responsibility just like any other worker.  The employer should pay any compensation for injuries that occurred on their watch!

Regardless of the motivations behind this bill, it would only succeed in making the workplace less safe for all Montana workers.  I urge legislators to vote against this dangerous bill.

If you agree, please click here to write to your Senators and Representatives to let them know.