Politics

A bill signing drama in three parts

Monday began with an understanding that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would sign legislation enabling undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, and by the late evening he had delivered on his earlier promises.

But during the day – as Senate Democrats advanced the legislation – the fate of the measure would go on a wild roller coaster, with none of the chaos (surprisingly) coming from the Senate.

Here’s what happened…

ACT 1 – A turn of events

During a radio interview with WAMC News on Monday morning, Cuomo expressed fears about the “unintended consequence” of the legislation creating a database the federal authorities could exploit.

“California passed a law and they are now in litigation because the federal government is using their DMV … database to target undocumented people,” Cuomo said. “So, you create a driver’s license for undocumented people, you just have to make sure that you do it in a way that the feds don’t come in the next day and access that database with the exact opposite intention.” 

“I’m going to be asking the solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, who does the legal opinions for the state of New York, to review the law and assure us that the federal government will not be able to access the information or subpoena the information,” Cuomo said.

The announcement was a surprise to the bill’s senate sponosor, Bronx Democrat Luis Sepulveda, who said the issue hadn’t raised in the last six month’s of discussions with Cuomo’s office.

The governor’s counsel wrote to Barbara Underwood, the state’s solicitor general, to determine whether the proposed legislation would prohibit the federal government from accessing any database controlled by the state.

“Please give us your opinion on the bill as drafted and any language changes to the bill that you think would adequately address this issue,” wrote Alphonso David.

Act 2 – Thank u, next

State Attorney General Letitia James responded to the governor in a statement shortly before 8 p.m. (while senator’s were explaining their votes on the measure ) that her office would “not opine on any actions the federal government may or many take.”

“I support the Green Light bill, and the Office of Attorney General has concluded that it is constitutional,” James said.

“The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” she said. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.” 

Act 3 – A change of heart

The response from the attorney general’s office appeared to satisfy Cuomo’s concerns. 

Alphonso David released a statement – while the senate was completing its voting – proclaiming that they were now confident the legislation couldn’t be “weaponized,” even though the solicitor general never responded to the governor’s request.

“Based on the Attorney General’s representation, the Governor will sign the bill,” David wrote. “We hope the Attorney General’s assessment is correct for the safety of the thousands of undocumented individuals who are relying on her legal opinion.”

Cuomo signed the bill shortly before 10 p.m.
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