The Wichita City Council will consider supporting a bill to allow “undocumented workers” to obtain driver’s permits as part of its 2015 state legislative agenda.
The council debated its prospective agenda for the upcoming legislative session Tuesday and will vote on whether to approve it Dec. 2. A variety of transportation issues top the agenda.
Mayor Carl Brewer has proposed that the city support efforts by Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, to pass a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s permits so they can drive to and from work.
Victors explained that the permits would differ from licenses because they could not be used to vote or go through airport security, but they would enable the workers to buy car insurance.
“I always say this is a safety issue,” Victors told the council.
Council Member Janet Miller voiced support, saying that regardless how people feel about illegal immigration, this would make the roads safer for all drivers and ensure that people would not be stuck paying the cost on their own if they have an automobile accident with a worker living in the country illegally.
Brewer noted that there was a hit and run in Wichita over the weekend, where a car was totaled and this was suspected to be the scenario. Council Member Lavonta Williams said that the policy would be good for economic development and also voiced support.
Council Member Pete Meitzner asked if other cities supported the measure.
Victors said that Garden City, Liberal, Dodge City, Topeka and Kansas City, Kan. — other cities with large immigrant populations — were supportive of the proposal, which failed to get a hearing during the last legislative session. "It's not just here in Wichita,” she said.
The city’s legislative agenda also includes continued subsidies for affordable airfares and for aviation training programs.
But concern about the state’s budget – the state is projected to have a shortfall of $279 million by the end of this fiscal year in June and an additional shortfall of $436 million the following year – overshadowed many of the propositions.
“You're all aware of the problems that face the state financially,” said Dale Goter, the city’s lobbyist. “Very challenging year going forward."
Almost every proposal was paired with the asterisk of “if funding continues” or “we’ll see what happens with the budget.”
The city wants to secure $5 million in funding for the subsidy that helps keep airfare prices low at Wichita’s airport.
“The affordable airfares is still a big, big deal,” Goter said Monday. “Everything’s under duress obviously, but with Southwest (Airlines) coming in, it’s an important year to maintain the initiative.”
Also, on the agenda is $5 million each in funding for the National Center for Aviation Training and National Institute for Aviation Research, which Goter said were key to workforce development.
The agenda also asks the state to protect transportation funding and fully execute its T-Works construction plan. The state’s highway fund has already been floated as a possible source for extra dollars by some Republican lawmakers.
Meitzner acknowledged that state lawmakers would have to make tough decisions but contended that the state should support its transportation plan as an economic driver.
“What we’ve got going on in Wichita, especially on East Kellogg, I would say if you’re going to relook at projects that impact the state that the recent activity we’ve committed on East Kellogg has a huge impact to the state’s economy,” Meitzner said Monday.
But on Tuesday Meitzner suggested tweaking the language from “full execution” of T-Works to “full funding.” He said “full execution” was too bold a statement.
"They're going to be challenged and we want them to balance the budget. They're going to have to anyway,” he said.
Meitzner also recommended the city seek state support for an environmental study on a passenger rail route through Wichita. The study is required to secure federal funds for the project.
The passenger rail, which would connect Wichita to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth to the south and Newton to Kansas City to the north, would make Wichita more of a hub, which would help business and tourism, he said.