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Town Board Supports Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 15:20

As it had indicated earlier this month, the East Hampton Town Board resolved last Thursday to support the goals of proposed New York State legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

At its May 7 meeting, the board heard from Mark Butler of East End for Opportunity, a nonprofit organization that helps town residents of limited financial means to obtain legal aid. The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act under consideration by the State Assembly and Senate would bring multiple benefits, he told the board — more drivers who are properly licensed, educated, and tested; an increased likelihood that an immigrant driver is operating a registered, inspected, and insured vehicle, and better cooperation with law enforcement, not just with traffic safety but with crimes.

Mr. Butler cited multiple studies to demonstrate the positive effects of such legislation. The American Automobile Association, he said, has stated that undocumented immigrants are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than licensed drivers because of a lack of driver education. Statistics from New Mexico and Utah showed that fatalities declined after undocumented immigrants obtained licenses, he said. 

The percentage of uninsured motorists also declines after a state allows undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses, Mr. Butler said. One study showed hit-and-run accidents decreased, likely because unlicensed, undocumented immigrants are more likely to flee even if their vehicles were hit by another car, whereas a licensed driver who can prove residence and identity can be given a warning or a ticket.

New York State is home to an estimated 725,000 undocumented immigrants, according to a 2016 Pew Hispanic Center study, and the Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that giving each of them the chance to obtain a driver’s license could bring the state up to $57 million a year through license and registration fees. It may also lead to lower insurance premiums for all motorists, according to the town board’s resolution. 

Just three members of the board were present last Thursday. In the absence of Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the three heard from Zachary Cohen, chairman of the board of East End for Opportunity, who thanked the town for putting the resolution on its agenda. There are revisions being made to the law, Mr. Cohen noted, in response to feedback from police chiefs around the state. He predicted a vote in the coming weeks, and told the board that State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie “says he has the votes” for passage. 

“It’s wonderful, how forward you are on this,” Mr. Cohen said. “I don’t see this as risky. Once this is implemented, everybody is going to see that this helps everybody.” 

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, presiding in Mr. Van Scoyoc’s absence, said that Ms. Burke-Gonzalez “was really out front” in getting the resolution completed. “We asked her if she wanted us to wait for her” — Ms. Burke-Gonzalez missed the meeting due to illness, Ms. Overby said — “and she said ‘No, it’s more important to have this done tonight.’ ” Councilman David Lys read the entire resolution before the unanimous vote. 

Also at the meeting, the board scheduled a June 6 public hearing on a zoning code amendment that would reduce the minimum required lot size for eligibility for a detached accessory apartment from 40,000 to 30,000 square feet. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. 

At the board’s May 14 meeting, Councilman Lys said that the move, the intent of which is to create more affordable housing, would make an additional 1,457 parcels eligible for a detached accessory apartment.  

Since the 2016 adoption of provisions permitting the construction of detached affordable accessory apartments, which allowed housing on parcels of at least 40,000 square feet, just three property owners have signed on to participate. The hope is that decreasing the minimum lot area, thus increasing the pool of eligible properties, would result in greater participation. Limits of 20 such structures per school district and 100 townwide will remain in place. 

Detached affordable accessory apartments can be used only for year-round occupancy by a town resident. Such apartments must be between 300 and 600 square feet. They must meet principal structure setbacks as set in the zoning code, except for front-yard setbacks, which must comply with accessory structure setbacks.

The board also authorized a final payout to Michael Sendlenski, who resigned as town attorney on May 3, in the amount of $28,451, almost all of it for accrued vacation and sick time.

The board also voted to cancel a meeting it was to have held on Tuesday. It will next meet on June 4 at 10 a.m. at Town Hall.

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