Assembly Bill 60 by Democrat Luis Alejo of Watsonville would allow state residents to apply for drivers licenses regardless of their immigration status. Current law generally requires drivers to carry a license to operate a vehicle -- with limited exceptions such as for farm machinery and off-road highway vehicles.
The 28-8 vote follows Alejo's comments on Wednesday that he would delay the bill until January to address the concerns of immigrant advocates about how the card could be distinguished from traditional licenses.
On Thursday afternoon, Alejo said he's inclined to hold the bill and not take it up for a final vote in the Assembly, but isn't sure. If it gets through the Assembly, Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to sign it.
Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said late amendments to the bill include a recognizable feature on the front and back of the license as well as various provisions to guard against discrimination.
Some supporters said it was unfortunate that the licenses would need special markings, in part to satisfy federal requirements, but said the tradeoff was worth it.
"This measure will ensure that all drivers on California highways are properly trained, properly licensed and properly insured," de León said, adding that 10 other states allow undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.
"We are actually quite behind," he said.
Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said it's important drivers are trained and insured.
"Not only is it the right thing to do but our economy will benefit," Cannella said.
Some critics of the bill have argued that issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants would not make them safer drivers and would not guarantee that they obtain insurance. Others have continued to contend that distinguishing marks on licenses unfairly single people out.
There were no speakers on the floor in opposition to the proposal.
Proponents said the measure would go far to helping the more than 1.4 million unlicensed drivers in California, many of whom need transportation to and from work.
"The lack of resolve in moving the bill forward now is unacceptable," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles said in a statement Thursday. "The status quo is not an option for California's leaders."
Assembly 60 closely mirrors several stalled efforts by Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo. On Thursday, he said that for more than 20 years undocumented immigrants have been barred from driving legally. The result has been immigrants -- upward of 2 million -- continuing to drive daily because they must.
"Today we have the historic opportunity to end this situation by providing immigrants with legal and safe means to get to work, take their kids to school, and to visit places of worship," Cedillo said.
The measure, much of which would become effective Jan. 1, 2015, would cost the state between $140 million and $220 million over three years to issue roughly 1.4 million licenses. It now moves to the Assembly.
PHOTO: Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles at the Senate Chambers at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday June 10, 2013. The Sacramento/Manny Crisostomo