LOS ANGELES —
"Those distinctions mean little to hard-working people who simply want to drive to work or drive their kids to school or soccer practice without fear," he said.
State officials estimate 1.4 million drivers will apply for licenses under the law during the first three years. The measure, written by Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, will grant licenses to anyone who passes the written and road tests, regardless of immigration status.
State and local officials touted the importance of getting immigrants properly trained and tested so that they know how to drive and are familiar with the rules of the road in California.
"That's what this bill is about, making the streets of this state safer," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said. The bill had the backing of the state's Police Chiefs Association and insurance authorities.
It isn't clear whether entities such as local government offices, libraries or banks will accept the license as identification.
Over the past two decades, immigrant advocates have pushed to get licenses in California. The effort took on more urgency in recent years as immigrants caught driving without a license began seeing their cars impounded and wound up being screened by federal immigration authorities for deportation.
Former state lawmaker and current Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo said he introduced the license bill 11 times over 15 years, but the measure failed to get enough votes or was vetoed or repealed.
Cedillo said the license will bear a marker to comply with a federal identification law enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks but that won't impede immigrants desperate to drive legally from applying for it.
In the Legislature, opponents of the bill said granting a license with special markings would put employers and landlords in a conflict between complying with state and federal laws.