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Queens Chronicle

NY makes two major transportation moves

Undocumented folks will be able to get licenses; e-bikes, e-scooters to be legal

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2019 10:30 am

Joining 12 other states and the District of Columbia, New York on Monday legalized driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

With Democrats having won control of the state Senate last year to make Albany a blue trifecta, immigrant advocates had made winning the policy a major priority for this year’s legislative session. It became known as the Green Light campaign.

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Jackson Heights), a former Dreamer who co-sponsored the bill, spoke about it on her chamber’s floor.

“We’ve heard over and over again that our state stands to make more than $50 million in yearly revenue, that having licensed, tested, insured drivers will help protect our roads,” she said. “We have seen families like mine whose lives would be changed forever with this piece of paper. A ‘no’ vote is clearly not based on the merits, but rather, on a deep-rooted fear of backlash from constituents who may harbor anti-immigrant sentiments.”

Immigrant advocacy groups across New York State had pushed for the bill. They weren’t alone. The Business Council of New York State, which touted the economic growth that the policy would create, was among the myriad other organizations who backed it. Powerful unions were also in favor.

“We celebrate this important step to reinforce our state’s values to give everyone who lives here equal rights to work and live with dignity,” 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa said in his own statement.

State lawmakers largely voted along party lines, though not all Senate Democrats backed it. Republicans characterized it as an extreme left-wing idea.

It’s not a new one in New York, though. The Empire State actually used to let undocumented immigrants apply for and obtain the licenses but ended the policy in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Wednesday brought another major end-of-session transportation story for the state.

The Senate passed a bill to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters, with the Assembly expected to do the same after the Chronicle’s deadline. The bill lets municipalities decide their own rules for the vehicles. State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst) and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) carried the bills in their respective chambers.

Even with the state’s new action, city law still prohibits “throttle assist” e-scooters and some e-bikes. The Council will have to change the law if those vehicles are to be totally legalized in the five boroughs. The city does already permit “pedal-assist” bikes with batteries, like certain Citi Bikes.

NYPD officers have often confiscated e-bikes from food delivery workers in the city and hit them with steep fines. The employees, many of whom are immigrants and members of minorities, organized to get the vehicles legalized. Other reasons cited as support for it include reducing traffic congestion and pollution from automobiles.

Youths under 16 years old will still not be able to ride either of the vehicles legally. Shared e-scooters won’t be allowed in Manhattan, and neither they nor e-bikes will be allowed on the Hudson River Greenway path.

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