Senate supports easing way for foreigners to get driver’s licenses

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Senate supports easing way for foreigners to get driver’s licenses

A bill that would give foreigners quicker access to Georgia driver’s licenses moved one step closer to becoming law Tuesday when it won passage in the state Senate.

By a vote of 42-3 the Senate approved House Bill 475, sponsored by Republican state Rep. B.J. Pak of Lilburn. The legislation is headed back to the House because the Senate slightly amended it. Gov. Nathan Deal has already signaled his support for it.

HB 475 would authorize Georgia to enter into “reciprocity agreements” with other countries. Such agreements would allow foreigners to skip the state’s knowledge and on-the-road driver’s license tests, so long as they are legally present in the U.S. and hold valid driver’s licenses issued by their own countries. Their countries must also offer the same benefits to visitors with Georgia driver’s licenses.

The Senate amended the bill to say Georgia won’t enter into such agreements with other countries unless it determines their driving laws “are sufficiently similar to such laws of this state such that driving safety shall not be compromised.”

Supporters say the legislation would help boost Georgia’s economic competitiveness. The measure targets corporate executives who routinely visit the state.

“This is a piece of legislation that really grew out of our experience with trying to attract international companies to our state,” Deal said. “We think it makes us a more business-friendly state. Many other states have done similar things.”

ProEnglish — a nonprofit group that supports making English the official language of all levels of government — emailed an alert to supporters this month urging them to fight HB 475. Robert Vandervoort, the executive director of ProEnglish, issued a statement Tuesday urging Deal to veto the bill.

“There is no requirement that they demonstrate English language proficiency, which is the universal language of all U.S. roads and road signs,” Vandervoort said in an email. “The voters in Georgia expect their elected officials to put road safety ahead of well-funded special interest groups.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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