Protecting the “Body Politic”
By Senator Richard T. Moore
July 16, 2012 ... The preamble to our Massachusetts State Constitution explains that a primary purpose of government is “…to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life…”
In the state budget just passed by the Legislature, several important steps were taken to address a growing problem that threatens “the existence of the body politic,” and the ability of Massachusetts residents to enjoy “in safety and tranquility…the blessings of life.” This might sound a bit dramatic, but the tragic loss of life in our region, and across the state, caused by unlicensed drivers is clearly a serious matter!
In a truly bipartisan manner, the House of Representatives, at the urging of Rep. John Fernandes, and the Senate, with my leadership, adopted amendments to the budget to improve the safety of our communities, and to put some sharper teeth in our vehicle license and registration laws. The amendments provide for increased penalties for driving without a license, for knowingly allowing an unlicensed person to drive a motor vehicle, for employing an unlicensed person as a driver, for counterfeiting a driver’s license or identification documents, and for requiring anyone registering a motor vehicle to have a legal residence in the state. These are all provisions that area police have asked for and that families of victims have rightfully demanded, and while we might like even tougher requirements, they represent a good first step toward greater safety on our roads!
Despite Gov. Patrick telling immigrant advocates who opposed tougher driving laws that he was on their side, the Governor did sign into law all of the provisions except for the requirement that those registering vehicles must be legal residents. Most people might assume that it was already the law to be a legal resident to register a vehicle. However, he brazenly sent back that provision with a proposed amendment striking the word “legal” and adding more loopholes for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow people to register their cars or trucks.
In what must be one of the Legislature’s proudest moments, both the House and Senate unanimously rejected the Governor’s amendment weakening the registration provisions! While some advocates have decried these actions as “anti-immigrant,” the truth is that they are pro-public safety.
Why is it important for the state to know that those registering a vehicle have a legal residence? Certainly, having the correct, legal address will ensure that local communities will be able to collect the motor vehicle excise tax that they are due. It will also allow the cross-checking of registrations with proof of insurance so that it will be more likely that those on the roads are properly insured. It will also help to reduce the number of illegal drivers causing carnage on our roads.
The Governor now has three choices regarding the registration issue. He can simply let the provisions become law without his signature. He can sign the provisions into law, or he can veto the section. If the Governor vetoes the section requiring those registering vehicles must have a legal residence, it is very likely that both branches of the legislature will override the veto.
In the words of Bob Dylan’s classic “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see; how many ears must one man have before he can hear people (victims’ families) cry? How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”
The people of Massachusetts deserve to know how many innocent people need to die at the hands of drivers who are unlicensed before state government acts. The answer to these questions doesn’t have to keep “blowin’ in the wind.” It was actually within our grasp if Gov. Patrick would allow the registration provisions to become law or if the Legislature votes to override any veto!