Legislators get an earful about driver's license rules

Three Rogue Valley legislators used a Town Hall-style meeting in Medford on Tuesday to focus on the major pre-session issue of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Some 150 protestors, however, took the opportunity to argue against increased restrictions for getting a state driver's license.

The legislature begins its first-ever annual session Monday, intending to tweak the state budget's progress, increase state police funding, address security of senior home care and, said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, fix subprime loans with increased transparency of the loan process and possible rollbacks on prepayment penalties and adjustable rates.

The protestors, meanwhile, lit candles, said prayers and gave speeches in front of Medford City Hall before the hearing, objecting to requirements for increased documentation, including a Social Security number, before getting a driver's license.

At the hearing, one citizen asked people to stand if they supported driver's licenses for immigrants trying to set up lives here. Some 80 percent stood.

Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, said the issue is hugely complex and his party recently had caucused for five hours trying to find ways for immigrants to have a driver's license — without opening the doors to out-of-staters who would use a brief stay in Oregon to build illicit documentation.

Bates said "we want some form of I.D. so we know who you are" but that also avoids fraud and identity theft.

"I'm trying to get us to come together. Tearing families and communities apart is not the answer. We must have driver's licenses that can be used with confidence," said Bates. "It's not going to happen that we deport people without ID."

Legislators denounced subprime mortgage lenders, with Bates saying they "enticed people, to put it kindly, into mortgages they couldn't afford, then reset interest," causing 1.5 percent of mortgages in the state to default and ruining peoples' credit so they couldn't get better loans.

If they could waive the prepayment penalty, some 30 to 50 percent of subprime borrowers would get a decent fixed-rate loan and work to keep their homes, Said Bates.

"There's going to be a lot of pressure in both directions (in the session). We need to do this morally, not from the financial aspect. We've got to move forward," said Bates.

When one citizen warned of hospitals cherry-picking patients with good health insurance plans, Bates, a doctor, said "the health care system in the U.S. is collapsing as we speak" and his bill for statewide universal coverage would get a lot of support in the legislature next year.

All three legislators said they would support the health plan, including Rep. Sal Esquivel of Medford, who noted, "I'm a Republican. Why would I do that? Because the system today is broken. It doesn't work. Can you keep up with your health care costs? If I didn't have health care from the state, I would be struggling."

All three legislators said they supported state action to force railroads to maintain their rails in good condition, especially now that Coos Bay is "the last good deep water port on the West Coast," as Bates put it, and needs good rails to ship inland.

When challenged on state spending, legislators said Oregon has an enormous "black economy" of untrackable income, including that from growing illicit marijuana and, said Bates, the state's income and property taxes are too high, suggesting "we need to have a conversation about a sales tax."

The comment drew large applause. Esquivel added there needs to be significant property tax relief for those earning $10,000 to $250,000.

Esquivel said he hoped to get a "big look" review of land use planning changes and $5 million to complete the health sciences building at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

The legislators answered criticism of an annual session, saying they had to "test drive" it his year in order to find out if it worked and, if so, would refer it to the people as a Constitutional amendment.

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