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In the waning hours of the 2013 legislative session, the California Assembly sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses.

The 55-19 vote moved California a signature away from putting into law a measure immigrant advocates have sought fruitlessly for years, with past attempts thwarted by legislative vote and gubernatorial veto.

"This is a moment, members," author Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said in closing remarks on the Assembly floor as Latino lawmakers stood clustered together, "that years from now you're going to look back on."

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Brown signaled he would likely sign the bill.

"This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally," Brown said in the statement. "Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due."

Earlier Thursday, the state Senate resuscitated the left-for-dead bill and sent it back to the Assembly, marking an apparent reversal: Alejo had said on Wednesday evening he would defer a final vote until the 2014 session begins in January.

But amid a late push from proponents -- including members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles City Council member and former state lawmaker who perennially carried bills to offer undocumented immigrants driver's licenses -- legislators pushed Assembly Bill 60 across the finish line.

By extending licenses to undocumented immigrants, Alejo said, California would open a legal umbrella for everyone on the road to prevent situations in which immigrants face arrest, heavy fines and car impoundment when they are pulled over.

"Just know this bill is going to have a positive impact on the lives of over two million immigrants in the state of California," Alejo said on Thursday evening.

Other supporters said the legislation emphasized bringing all drivers under a legal umbrella, helping to ensure all drivers receive proper training and obtain car insurance and to discourage hit-and-runs in which immigrants, fearful of the consequences of driving without a license, flee the scene.

"Common sense tells us that licensing those drivers who are already on the streets and highways makes sense," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

In discussing on Wednesday why he planned to hold the bill, Alejo referenced concerns among immigrant advocate about how the new cards would be distinct in appearance from drivers licenses available to citizens and legal permanent residents.

During floor debate on Thursday, Alejo said the licenses would carry "recognizable features on front and back" but maintained the new cards would remain the "most discreet" of any offered by states that have approved similar laws.

But for opponents of the bill, privacy protections embedded in the bill -- including language prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on the new licenses -- represented a step too far.

"As an employer, if they produce this driver's license what am I supposed to do?" asked Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Luis Alejo.


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