Cayuga County Clerk Sue Dwyer, who opposes legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, believes the bill's sponsor is targeting clerks who have publicly opposed the proposal.
State Sen. Luis Sepulveda is the author of a bill that would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. On Monday, he introduced a bill, S5527, that would allow the governor to remove a county clerk from office if they refuse to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants.
"It is not up to county clerks to question, or change public policy," Sepulveda's bill reads. "Indeed, county clerks have sworn to uphold New York state law. The willful failure to do so should be grounds for removal from office."
The legislation memo adds later, "Just like other public officials, (county) clerks must obey the law and cannot refuse to perform their duties or take law into their own hands."
The governor already has the authority, through the state Constitution, to remove a county clerk from office. A public hearing must be held before a clerk can be removed.
Dwyer, a Republican, thinks Sepulveda, D-Bronx, is engaging in "showmanship" by introducing a bill targeting clerks.
"Otherwise, why would he do it?" she said in a phone interview Monday. "(The governor has) already got powers to remove certain public people. Why would they go ahead and do this?"
Dwyer repeated her concerns with the bill, but she's open to a compromise. She is urging legislators to amend the measure and remove a citizenship question from the driver's license application for undocumented immigrants.
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When applying for a driver's license, Dwyer explained, the applicant is asked if they are a U.S. citizen. If the applicant answers yes, then they are given the option of registering to vote.
If they register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Dwyer believes there isn't a way for the Board of Elections to verify whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.
Katie Lacey, the Democratic elections commissioner in Cayuga County, disputed this in March. She said if someone does register to vote through the DMV process, they wouldn't be automatically added to the voter rolls. The county and state election boards would need to verify their forms.
The legislation hasn't been considered by the state Assembly or Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced last week that there is enough support among Democrats for the bill to pass. Sepulveda's bill in the state Senate has 24 cosponsors, including Syracuse state Sen. Rachel May.
Dwyer said she contacted Cayuga County's state legislative delegation about the bill. Republican state Sens. Bob Antonacci, Pam Helming and Jim Seward, along with state Assembly members Gary Finch and Brian Manktelow, oppose the measure. But as members of the minority legislative conferences, there's little they can do to stop it.
There hasn't been any communication between Dwyer and Sepulveda. She said she didn't contact him, but thinks he's heard about her complaints and ideas for amending the bill.
"I tried my best and I hope he heard the message," she said. "But I think this is the message I got was Senate bill 5527. That's what message I got today."