A proposal to grant illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain driver’s permits lost the support of the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.
The council voted 4-3 to withdraw the measure from its 2015 legislative agenda. It had voted 4-3 to include it in December.
Council member Jeff Blubaugh changed his vote, resulting in the council’s shift on the issue.
“I’ve received feedback from my constituents,” Blubaugh said at the meeting Tuesday. “I’m against this, I think it’s wrong, and I would like to have it removed from our legislative agenda.”
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The proposal in the Legislature would allow immigrants who entered the country illegally to obtain driver’s permits for the purpose of buying insurance.
Colorado and Illinois have similar policies on the books.
Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, introduced the bill during last year’s legislative session, but it failed to get a hearing.
Sulma Arias, executive director of Sunflower Community Action, called the decision a stunning reversal of support in an e-mailed statement.
“The vote is further proof that the city of Wichita devalues the lives and contributions of Latinos, which make up 15 percent of the population of the city,” the statement read.
People protesting the decision interrupted Mayor Carl Brewer’s State of the City address Tuesday night, expressing disappointment before being escorted out by police officers.
Brewer, who supports the measure, said during the council meeting that the immigration issue won’t go away.
“There will be a point in time where you will have no choice but to deal with it,” he said.
Blubaugh said he withdrew his support for the measure after being informed that groups that had pushed for it initially had withdrawn their support. Those groups included the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Farm Bureau.
“The whole illegal deal bothered people,” Blubaugh said. “Why would we give a driving permit to somebody who’s an illegal immigrant?”
Arias implied in her e-mail that the decision was related to Blubaugh seeking re-election in April. He said that was not the case.
“It has nothing to do with that,” he said. “In my opinion, it should have never been on the city agenda, and I probably should have stood up for it (in December). It’s not a city issue. It’s something that should be figured out separately at the state level.”
Council members James Clendenin, Jeff Longwell and Pete Meitzner joined Blubaugh in voting to remove the proposal from the agenda.
Council members Lavonta Williams, Janet Miller and Brewer voted against removing the proposal.