As the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles prepares for nearly 200,000 undocumented immigrants to soon be able to apply for a driver's license, the costs associated with implementing the new license access law this summer could rise as high as $28 million.
The law that legislators passed last summer, and was upheld by voters in the fall, to expand driver's license access to immigrants without legal status will take effect on July 1.
The law leaves the job of verifying foreign documents presented by individuals seeking licenses to the RMV. When former Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the measure in May he said the registry "does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries."
Healey supported the measure as a candidate, and as governor is recommending $28 million in her annual budget to cover the logistics of implementing the new law. The funds, if approved by the Legislature, would be used to train staff to verify new ID documents, hire more customer service representatives and road test examiners, invest in new technology to expand service operations, and develop procedures to ensure data privacy, Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca said at a department of transportation board meeting on Wednesday.
Get New England news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NECN newsletters.
A briefing on Healey's budget also says the funds will allow for expanded service hours at select RMVs.
"This law represents a monumental step forward for safety and equity in the Commonwealth, ensuring that drivers on Massachusetts roadways have demonstrated their knowledge of driving laws and are able to access insurance coverage," the briefing says. It adds, "New applicants will pay the standard transaction fees at the Registry, bringing in additional revenue that will largely offset these implementation costs."
The $28 million included in Healey's budget recommendation far exceeds the $9.2 million that Baker proposed last fall to help the registry with extra costs related to the so-called "Work and Family Mobility Act."
The Legislature allowed the supplemental budget that included the $9.2 million to die at the end of their session in January. With about three months until the law takes effect, the RMV has not yet received extra funds to deal with costs related to the hundreds of thousands of newly-eligible potential applicants.
Including implementation funding in the annual also creates timing problems. With a final fiscal 2024 budget due July 1 but often late, including the money in the annual budget means it won't come in time for the RMV to hire additional staff ahead of July 1, when undocumented immigrants may begin applying.
Immigrants without legal status who are granted a license will receive a "standard Massachusetts driver's license, with no marks or indications. It will look like every other standard driver's license we issue today," RMV registrar Colleen Ogilvie said on Wednesday.
Applicants will have to go through the full process to receive a standard, five-year license, starting with a driver's permit, then taking a road test.
Seven new foreign languages have been added to the list of now 43 languages offered for the state's learner's permit exam: Albanian, Cape Verdean Creole, Hungarian, Kiswahili, Pashto, Turkish and Ukrainian.
"We've had teams of people working hard on this on a variety of different fronts to ensure we update our processes, that we enable more access to language services and interpretation services, and as Secretary Fiandaca outlined in the budget, we are very thankful to state government for initiating the process to support us," Ogilvie said.