DENVER – In a last minute blitz, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 61 bills into law Wednesday that included contentious measures to issue driver’s licenses and ID cards to illegal immigrants, and make it easier for firefighters to unionize.
Some of the laws may need tweaking, he admitted, but the problems didn’t merit a veto.
Unknown is whether the flaws will require another executive order, a court challenge, or amendment posed by legislative bills next year.
Hickenlooper said the bill to grant driver’s licenses and IDs to undocumented citizens is an integral part of the immigration reform package sponsored by Democrat legislators this year.
Previously signed into law are measures that grant in-state higher education tuition to illegal immigrants and a measure that relaxes a requirement that state and local law enforcement report their presence to federal immigration authorities.
“It’s just smart policy to allow hardworking immigrant Coloradans to pass driver tests, get driver’s license and buy auto insurance,” said Ezzie Dominquez, a volunteer leader for Driver’s Licenses for All which lobbied the governor.
“It will make our roads and communities safer,” she said. “It’s so much better to have those already driving their kids to school and their families to church fully trained, licensed and insured.”
Opponents contend the measure doesn’t ensure that illegal immigrants will obtain driver’s licenses or insurance. They also believe it poses a threat to national security because applicants are not required to provide photo IDs and are not subject to criminal background checks.
According to the new law, acceptable identification is a foreign country-issued passport, consular card or military document. However, the latter two forms are nearly impossible to verify according to the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles.
Republican legislators voted against Senate Bill 251 sponsored by Democrats Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City and Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora.
Morse, who attended the private bill signing, said the law “aims to make everyone in the state safer while on the road by ensuring all drivers are properly trained and ensured” on Facebook.
If the measure stirs controversy among constituents in Senate District 11, it won’t be the first. His push for gun-control laws led to a recall effort that Monday garnered roughly 16,000 petition signatures – more than twice the number required.
Senate Bill 25, a union-backed measure to mandate collective bargaining for firefighters, might have caused more concern for Hickenlooper, who had threatened to veto it.
“The Firefighters Collective Bargaining Act”, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton and Rep. Angela Williams of Denver, was revamped and renamed “The Colorado Firefighter Safety Act.”
Though the bill no longer mandates statewide collective bargaining, it does open the door for firefighters to unionize through a ballot measure either approved by the employer or by petition with a minimal number of signatures – 5 percent of the last general election or a district election.
The bill applies to all fire districts and municipalities in the state with the exception of those that are currently unionized or actively engaged in collective bargaining.
Opponents argue that it infringes on the rights of home rule cities, such as Colorado Springs where voters twice rejected collective bargaining, and smaller municipalities and districts with limited revenue.
“This new law upends local control and municipal home rule authority in a manner unprecedented in recent memory,” said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. “(The) language is convoluted, and the numerous legal flaws in the legislation will likely be challenged in court.”
“We are now seriously worried about the unfunded public employment mandates waiting in the wings that may be opposed upon local governments and the taxpayers we serve,” Mamet said.
The bill’s sponsors revised the bill in collaboration with the governor’s office and the Colorado Professional Firefighters union. Excluded from those discussions were the Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association and the Colorado Municipal League.
“While this legislation would have benefited from more active negotiation between the firefighters’ union and local government, it satisfies the criteria we outlined,” said Hickenlooper.
“Implementation of this may require future legislation to reconcile technical and structural issues,” admitted Hickenlooper.
“Our goal was no vetoes,” he said. “There were a number of bills where there were things we weren’t crazy about, but it didn’t come to the level of a veto.”
“Politically, it would have been better to have a few vetoes,” said Hickenlooper.
“There are some bills out there he should have vetoed because that would have been good governance for the people of Colorado,” House Minority Leader Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) told KDVR.
“It’s not about being able to tout a score of no votes, it’s about what’s right for this state,” said Waller.