Bill adds jail time to driving without license penalty
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Driving without a license in Georgia could become a felony with lengthy jail time under a bill approved by a legislative committee Tuesday.
The measure could affect illegal immigrants especially, because they are unable to legally obtain a driver’s license in Georgia. Those who are able to obtain a legal state license would see their cases dismissed, which is a provision added this year to a bill vetoed in 2007.
“It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said bill sponsor Sen. John Wiles (R-Kennesaw), at a hearing of the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
Currently a misdemeanor, driving without a license would become a felony after a third violation in five years if the bill passes. The penalty would carry jail time of one to five years and a possible fine of $2,500 to $5,000.
Wiles said he did not focus on immigration when writing the bill but, instead, public safety.
“People who aren’t licensed shouldn’t be driving,” he said. “We gotta say, ‘You can’t do it.’ ”
The bill was approved out of committee 5-4 with black legislators voting against it. Several expressed concerns about racial profiling of people the police think might not have driver’s licenses.
“I have a certain sensitivity to racial profiling, or as they say in the community, ‘driving while black’ ” said Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Ellenwood). “I’ve been pulled over for no other reason than I’m driving a new car and I happen to be black.”
“How can I explain to my constituents that I just made it easier for this to be a felony?” he asked.
Elise Shore of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund spoke against the bill, arguing that such a bill likely would lead police to stop more people “who appear to be of a certain nationality.”
“People who are in this country illegally will recognize the increased penalties and look for a more hospitable place to live,” bill supporter D.A. King testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday. King is president of the Dustin Inman Society, a group opposed to illegal immigration.