While lawmakers have not yet approved a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses, some are already considering ways to make sure county clerks process the applications.
- Legislation would authorize the governor to remove county clerks from office
- Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns maintains he won't process licenses
- Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said clerks opposing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants should reconsider
"Are they trying to scare clerks? Absolutely, but I'm not scared," Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, said.
Legislation sponsored by state Senate Democrat Luis Sepúlveda would authorize the governor to remove clerks who choose not to process applications. Kearns said it's unnecessary.
"The governor does have the authority in the state constitution to remove public officials," he said.
He said Sepúlveda's proposal will not change his mind about refusing to obey the potential state law and he said it would be a mistake by the governor to take drastic action.
"Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually was the last governor to remove someone, a corrupt sheriff, when he was running for president, so I don't think the governor wants to do that. I was duly elected by the voters of Erie County and my position was known to the voters, prior to me even running for this office," Kearns said.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-NY, towed the line Friday when asked about the bill.
"Basically, the clerks are required to follow the law and removal is another topic and I'm not familiar with what the details are, how they propose this, what the legislation looks like, so I never speak about issues when I don't have familiarity but conceptually though, clerks are required to follow the law," she said.
Kearns said it's his obligation to follow federal law, if it's different than the state law. Regardless, Hochul said her thinking on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants has changed since she was Erie County clerk, and she suggested clerks who oppose it take a step back and reconsider.
"I think the clerks should look at it the way I have," Hochul said. "Over the last 11 years there's been a real shift in people's attitudes, particularly when we know how under assault our immigrant community is from Washington. It's a different climate than we had a few years back."
Hochul and Kearns seem to agree on at least one thing. They both believe the driver's license legislation will pass this session.