Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Challenge to Legislative Withdrawal of Driver License Bill Rejected
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Legislature acted within its constitutional authority two years ago in withdrawing legislation it had passed allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The ruling came on the same day California voters decided whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis. The governor’s signing last month of a similar bill became an issue in the recall, as leading Republican contenders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock accused the governor of endangering public safety by signing the bill.
Supporters claim the bill will promote public safety by enabling undocumented immigrants, many of whom are driving without licenses, to become licensed and obtain insurance.
Opponents of this year’s bill have filed papers seeking a referendum which would prevent the measure from taking effect Jan. 1. A vote on the referendum would take place on primary election day in March.
But the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles claimed that the earlier bill, AB 60, became law without the governor’s signature. They sued the Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of a woman who is unable to obtain a license or identification card under the current law because she lacks a social security number.
AB 60 passed the Senate and Assembly in September 2001 and was sent to Davis on Oct. 2 of that year. But the Assembly chief clerk, with the acquiescence of the governor, later retrieved the bill and returned it to the Legislature, which withdrew it from enrollment in January of last year by unanimous consent.
The Legislature later passed the bill again, sending it back to the governor in August of last year. Davis vetoed AB 60 a month later.
This year’s version of the bill, SB 60, was signed by Davis on Sept. 5.
The law would allow persons who lack social security numbers to use federal taxpayer identification numbers or other identifiers acceptable to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Opponents have until Dec. 7 to collect the 373,816 signatures needed to put the matter on the ballot, the Secretary of State’s Office said.
MALDEF and LAFLA claimed in their complaint that the governor wanted AB 60 withdrawn so that he could “avoid having to sign or veto the bill.” Davis, according to the allegations, was concerned about the bill’s identification requirements but wanted to avoid a veto that “would have alienated Latino voters.”
Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland, writing yesterday for the Court of Appeal, said in a footnote that the allegations about the governor’s motivations were “not supported by the appellate record.”
The presiding justice emphasized that the withdrawal of the bill from enrollment was acquiesced in by the executive and legislative branches.
“Since the Legislature is vested with the exclusive authority to determine whether the formalities for enactment of a statute have been fulfilled, it follows that a court cannot retry, as a question of fact, the Legislature’s determinations,” Scotland wrote.
By returning AB 60 to enrollment last year—the second year of the biennial session in which the bill was passed—“the Legislature necessarily determined that the retrieval of the bill by the Chief Clerk was proper and effectual,” Scotland said. “It is not competent for a court to retry that determination as a question of fact,” the presiding justice added.
Scotland went on to say that even if the Legislature acted illegally in retrieving the bill, it did not become law under Art. IV, Sec. 10 of the state Constitution. The section provides that every bill passed by the Legislature “shall be presented to the Governor” and shall become law if he signs it, or if he neither signs nor vetoes it within the prescribed period.
The governor normally has 12 days from the date a bill is presented to him in which to sign or veto it. But if any bill, other than a reapportionment bill, passes in the first year of the session and is still in the governor’s possession when the Legislature recesses for the year, he has 30 days from the date the recess begins to sign or veto it, Sec. 10 says.
The section provides another exception to the 12-day limit when a bill passes before Sept. 1 of the second year but is not presented to the governor until Sept. 1 or later. In that event, the governor has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto it, as Davis did with AB 60 last year.
AB 60 could not have become law in 2001, Scotland explained, because it was not “presented” to Davis that year.
“[A] bill is not presented to the Governor unless it is in the physical possession of the Governor for a period of time, not more than 30 days, necessary to permit the Governor to deliberate on the bill,” the jurist wrote. “...Because the bill was not left in the Governor’s possession for the presentation period, it follows...that AB 60 was not presented to the Governor within the meaning of the Constitution.”
Justices Vance Raye and Ronald Robie concurred in the opinion. Counsel on appeal were Hector†O. Villagra and Belinda Escobosa Helzer of MALDEF and Michael J. Ortiz, Rosa Fregoso and†Susana Martinez of LAFLA for the plaintiff and Deputy Attorney General Christopher E. Krueger for the DMV.
The case is De Asis v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 03 S.O.S. 5300.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company