The next fight over the Mass. driver's license law

Demonstrators display a banner and chant slogans during a rally in front of the State House, in Boston on June 9, 2022, held in support of allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses in Massachusetts. (Steven Senne/AP)
Demonstrators display a banner and chant slogans during a rally in front of the State House, in Boston on June 9, 2022, held in support of allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses in Massachusetts. (Steven Senne/AP)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up hereThis story has been updated to reflect delays in the state’s implementation of the climate law that have slowed the rollout of EV incentives.

You may want to pack your gloves and give the car a few minutes to heat up this morning. It’s a frosty start to first full week of December.

The Massachusetts law allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license has survived a gubernatorial veto and a repeal effort at the ballot box. And yet, it still isn’t completely settled. With less than seven months to go before the new rules take effect on July 1, the law’s authors are speaking out against parts of the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ implementation plans. During a hearing Friday, several Democratic state lawmakers who were involved in the long fight to pass the law said that identity verification provisions in the RMV’s draft regulations were “undercutting” their intentions:

  • First: Typically, legal residents have to provide their Social Security number to get a license. But the RMV’s proposed regulations would give those unable to prove their legal status — and only them — the option to submit a signed letter saying they don’t have an SSN. The law’s writers argue this effectively creates a permanent internal record showing who is undocumented — which is something they explicitly did not want to do. State Sen. Brendan Crighton said it raises the risk that federal immigration officials could get information on undocumented immigrants through the RMV, which has happened in other states.
  • Second: The RMV is proposing that those unable to prove their legal status would have to show “at least two documents” establishing their identity, such as a foreign passport, driver’s license, marriage licenses, etc. The problem, according to the law’s authors, is the words “at least.” State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said those two words technically give RMV employees a “blank check” for even more documents. And in the 16 other states with similar laws, all require a set number of documents so nothing is left up for interpretation. (Farley-Bouvier also said foreign birth certificates should be added to the list of allowed documents.)
  • What’s next: The law’s backers say a few simple tweaks to the language of the regulations would make a big difference — but RMV officials made no indication as to whether they were amenable to the changes. A MassDOT spokeswoman said they will “carefully and thoroughly” review all feedback before filing final regulations.

Gov. Charlie Baker and other top state officials are getting together this morning in Freetown to celebrate their progress on the South Coast Rail project before he leaves office next month. But it’s going to be about another year before the extended commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford begins

  • Phase 1 of the project — which somewhat circuitously extends the Middleborough Line through Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford — is scheduled for completion in late 2023. (The three South Coast cities are currently the only major communities within 50 miles of Boston without commuter rail service.)
  • Phase 2? Even fans of the project are skeptical the 90-minute train ride from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston will be attractive to many riders. Officials are working on a second “full build” phase that would be faster (and avoid a chokepoint in Braintree) by extending the Providence/Stoughton Line instead. But the state has yet to lock down funding for that part of the project.

PSA: The expanded rebates for buying an electric car in Massachusetts are now officially available. That means you can get $3,500 if you buy a new fully electric vehicle that costs under $55,000. This is all in addition to federal EV incentives you may qualify for. (And yes, you can get both.)

P.S.— Something fishy is happening at WBUR CitySpace tonight — in a good way! WBUR’s Barbara Moran will talk to award-winning cooks and sustainability experts Barton Seaver and Jeremy Sewall about their passion for fish, untapped species in New England waters and how a warming climate will change what fish we will consume. (And don’t worry, it won’t actually smell fishy; I’m like 85% sure.)

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Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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