Republican candidates for an East Texas state Senate seat disagree over whether one of them has voted for permitting driver’s licenses for Texas residents who lack legal permission to live in the country.
State Rep. David Simpson of Longview emailed reporters a Nov. 30, 2015, statement saying Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola had slanderously charged Simpson with supporting licenses for illegal immigrants without delivering the factual goods. The two are competing for a chance to succeed Kevin Eltife of Tyler representing the Senate's District 1.
Simpson said: "I have always opposed driver’s licenses for illegal aliens."
Hughes disputed that in a Dec. 1, 2015, press release stating Simpson "actually voted for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants."
Is that right?
Some perspective: The Texas Department of Public Safety began requiring license applicants to produce government-issued documents affirming their legal residency status in 2008, and lawmakers voted to require as much in a 2011 special session. Before 2008, according to a July 2011 Texas Tribune news story, no proof of legal residency was required to obtain a Texas license or state identification card.
Mindful that Hughes said Simpson, a third-term legislator, voted for giving driver’s licenses to immigrants, we reviewed Simpson’s legislative record.
We ultimately found no direct votes by Simpson on licenses for immigrants. In contrast, he joined most House members in voting for the 2011 mandate that the state request proof of legal residency from driver’s license applicants, arguably a sign he wasn’t champing to ease the way for unauthorized residents to get licensed. Still, his vote on a 2013 House proposal leaves room for speculation about his consistency.
In summer 2011, lawmakers moved to require the DPS to seek proof of legal residency from applicants for driver’s licenses by placing an amendment on a fiscal matters measure. At the time, the move was pitched as bringing Texas into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, which says applicants for a driver's license must prove legal residency if they want to use the identification to get through airport security. See the agency's explanation of the requirement here.
And on June 9, 2011, nearly every House member (including Simpson) approved the amendment to Senate Bill 1. House video reveals no debate of the matter after Rep. Charles Geren, R-Fort Worth, told colleagues the amendment "addresses an issue of people getting Texas driver’s licenses that don’t live in Texas and it also allows the department to issue a license only for the length of time that a person is entitled to be here." According to the House Journal, eight members, Simpson not among them, asked to be recorded voting against the amendment.
Records show too Simpson voting against the overall fiscal matters proposal several times; those votes occurred on June 9, June 10 and June 28, 2011. By email, Simpsons told us he opposed the measure "due to its accounting gimmicks—namely, the deferment of Foundation School Program payments and the speed-up of tax payments—and its misplaced priorities, not because of the license provision, which I supported." He provided a copy of a May 2012 letter to House constituents stating that he "voted for the amendment to add documentation requirements for driver's licenses" but against SB 1 because it extended inequitable school funding, sped tax collections and used "smoke and mirrors" to balance the state budget.
So, there are no votes by Simpson in favor of driver’s licenses for immigrants.
But there does appear to be fodder for speculation about Simpson’s consistent opposition.
In 2013, Simpson voted against successful House efforts effectively killing proposals that related to more residents possibly getting driving permits. We don’t know of an independent way of telling if those votes signaled a position on driver’s licenses.
But on May 20, 2013, Simpson edged a step farther by voting in favor of one of the failed amendments, the Texas House Journal shows. An amendment to Senate Bill 1729 by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said that under the legislation, which generally authorized a pilot project enabling a few counties to update or renew driver’s licenses, a license should include "any Texas resident driver’s permit authorized by law."
And what did that mean? In debate, opponents said Cook’s language related to unauthorized residents getting a driver’s permit. Similarly, Simpson and Hughes’ campaign each nudged, conservative advocacy groups characterized the amendment as opening driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. In a scorecard of the 2013 Legislature, for instance, the Young Conservatives of Texas said Cook’s amendment "would have allowed for illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses."
We didn’t reach that conclusion. By email, Simpson told us Cook’s amendment "in no way authorized illegal aliens to receive driver’s licenses." Asked why he voted for it, Simpson said: "I voted yes to the amendment because it would only include licenses or permits already" authorized by law.
In the House debate, Cook didn’t dispute that his proposal might legalize more drivers; he also stressed that another change in law would be needed for the envisioned driving permits to become a reality. And while his proposal drew 72 votes, with 67 members voting no, it still died because Cook offered the proposal during final consideration of SB 1729; at that stage, 100 House votes were needed to amend legislation.
A few days earlier, on May 17, 2013, Cook rolled out a longer amendment to SB 1729. He described the longer proposal--which was shortly derailed on a parliamentary point of order--as identical to a committee-approved version of House Bill 3206 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas.
Alonzo’s unsuccessful plan called for state-issued driving permits for residents who lack proof of legal residency, also requiring recipients to obtain auto insurance. Under the proposal, every applicant would have to submit to fingerprinting and clear a criminal background check.
Before his proposal was felled, Cook told House members the permits wouldn’t look like driver’s licenses and couldn’t be used as IDs to board planes or vote. "We have a growing population of non-citizens driving every day to school, to church, to work, all without insurance," Cook said, posing risks to all residents.
The same month, Hughes’ campaign pointed out, Simpson was on the losing end of an 87-60 House vote setting aside Alonzo’s amendment to another House measure authorizing the state to let public schools and driving schools give the driving test required to get a license. Before that May 21, 2013, action, Alonzo told House colleagues that under his amendment, schools could give driving tests to individuals who obtained resident driving permits, provided such permits were legalized. "Texas has a problem," Alonzo said, with people driving without auto insurance or a driver’s permit.
By phone, Alonzo told us he favors giving undocumented individuals an opportunity to legally drive in Texas and his 2013 proposal’s described permits could have nudged the state toward fulfilling that goal though, he said, it didn’t provide for full-fledged licenses.
Hughes said Simpson "voted for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants."
No such vote occurred. In the clearest vote we could find, Simpson voted to make it harder, not easier, to obtain licenses when, in 2011, he joined nearly every House member in approving a new mandate that applicants for driver’s licenses be required to document their legal residency.
But we did find an element of truth to Hughes’ statement. Simpson voted in 2013 for an unsuccessful proposal that could generously be interpreted as foreseeing a path to individuals living here without authorization getting resident driving permits, though significantly such permits as sought by Alonzo and others didn’t (and don’t) exist.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.