|State Rep. Tim Hennessey|
This week in Harrisburg, the House Transportation Committee, led by chairman Rep. Tim Hennessey R-26th Dist. conducted a public hearing on House Bill 279, which, as written, would help undocumented mushroom, farm and orchard workers secure a driver’s license in Pennsylvania.
“I was pleased with the hearing, and the in-depth discussion we had on the merits of the bill. It’s an issue that would affect a significant number of people, many of whom have lived in Pennsylvania for 10-20-30 years and who contribute mightily to making us a ‘fresh produce powerhouse’ in the U.S. The idea deserves a discussion by the Legislature,” said Hennessey. “Although I don’t agree with all aspects of the bill, we must be open to learning more about various issues and having a discussion on a bill’s merits.”
Hennessey noted there are currently more than 160,000 undocumented residents living in Pennsylvania, with many residing in the Commonwealth for 20 years or more. Hennessey also said the state’s mushroom and fruit industries rely heavily on the undocumented population for their workforce. Pennsylvania currently ranks No. 1 in mushroom production—and No. 4 in apple and peach production – among the 50 states.
Representatives from both PennDOT and the PA Department of Agriculture testified before the committee that they were in favor of the concept of the bill but stated that there were specific hurdles that would need to be addressed.
Questions were raised on how PennDOT could determine a person’s driving history and if he or she had previous driving violations if they are undocumented. There were also comments about PennDOT’s ability to take on a new program when residents are experiencing long wait times and other hurdles to get their issues handled by the department.
The committee also heard from the PA Association of Sustainable Agriculture, MILPA, the New Sanctuary Movement, ACLU of Pennsylvania, CASA and the Keystone Research Center. Written testimony was also submitted from the PA Farm Bureau and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) expressing reservations about the bill.
Sixteen states already provide driving privileges in some form to undocumented residents, including most of Pennsylvania’s surrounding states.