Though he campaigned hard against it, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is negotiating with a Democratic state lawmaker to draft a bill that would grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.

Schwarzenegger’s first act as governor last fall was to repeal SB 60, signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, which would have opened the road for the estimated 2 million illegal immigrants of driving age in the Golden State.



Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger responds to reporters’ questions Tuesday (Photo: Contra Costa Times)

This week, however, the new governor said he was “absolutely positive we’ll come up with a great bill” to replace SB 60, opposed by 70 percent of California voters, according to exit polling during the October recall election.

Schwarzenegger said his office has been working closely to craft a successor to SB 60 with state Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, a former member of MeCha, the radical Latino student movement demanding annexation of all southwestern states.

“This is the way we move forward,” Schwarzenegger said at a Sacramento Press Club lunch Tuesday, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Despite opposition from many Republicans and a majority of Californians, the governor said he is confident of the outcome.

“It’s one of those things that we’ll all have to get together and see that this is a good idea and this is the way we move forward,” Schwarzenegger said, according to the Riverside paper. “I’m talking with my Republican friends all the time about it and also with my Democratic friends. We will do it.”

Cedillo’s chief of staff, Dan Savage, said tentative agreement has been reached to grant driver licenses to all illegal immigrants, the Press-Enterprise reported. The licenses would look identical to those of other residents.

Savage said there were two sticking points in the earlier bill — insurance requirements and verifying applicants’ identities.

Republicans have demanded applicants be subject to background checks, but Savage said that has not been a main topic during the negotiations, according to the Press-Enterprise.

A co-author of the legislation repealing SB 60, Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Palm Desert, remains firmly opposed to the plan.

“To actually give a legal document to an illegal immigrant, I’m not there,” Benoit told the Riverside paper.

But, Jesse Diaz, 39, a graduate student at UC Riverside and a member of the Mexican-American Political Foundation Backers, sees it as a practical move.

“There’s definitely a need for it,” said. “They’re going to drive regardless. It’s just now the rules will be safer. They’re going to have insurance. There will be driver’s training. It will be great.”

Davis signed SB 60 in September after blocking a similar bill in 2002, raising charges he was pandering to Latinos before the recall vote.

In a statement after signing the repeal Dec. 3, Schwarzenegger said:”The swift bipartisan passage of this legislation is a perfect example of how the peoples’ will can change politics-as-usual in Sacramento.

Benoit said President Bush’s proposal to give illegal workers temporary status might change the debate. If the measure passes Congress, Republicans might be more receptive to giving driver licenses to people with temporary work permits, he suggested.

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