COOPERSTOWN — The Otsego County Board of Representatives narrowly approved a resolution last Wednesday opposing a proposed state law that would allow undocumented immigrants to legally apply for driver’s licenses.
The law, which could be voted on in Albany in June, is supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, several business groups and has some momentum in the Legislature. However, it is opposed by many county clerks, including Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott-Gardner, a Republican who has been elected to four terms and is up for re-election in November.
All five of the county’s Republican representatives present last week voted for the resolution during the board’s June meeting at 197 Main St., as did Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Chair Meg Kennedy, a conservative who is aligned with the Republicans.
Republicans and Democrats share power in Otsego County, with a 7-7 split, although the GOP contingent holds more weighted votes, which are assigned based on district populations. However, with Rep. Daniel Wilber, a Republican, absent, the resolution passing was not guaranteed.
It took Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-town of Oneonta, voting for it, to get a majority of the 6,228 weighted votes needed to pass. Stammel’s District 4 has 527 votes, more than Wilber’s District 10, which has 487 votes and is made up of Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter and Plainfield.
Stammel said he doesn’t like resolutions like this one in general, and he did not think the issue was one concerning his constituents. He said he voted for it out of respect for Sinnott-Gardner and because he did not think the proposal bill did enough to address the concerns expressed by his colleagues.
Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Roseboom, Middlefield, said he was voting for the resolution for similar reasons.
Board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, was the most outspoken against the resolution, saying it was presented in committee with little notice and left members with little time to study the issue, which would otherwise not be discussed in county government. He said he supports the state bill, and pointed out it has support from police groups, labor and business groups and the New York Times editorial board, and is projected to bring in $26 million for the state in license fees.
Kennedy said she trusted Sinnott-Gardner’s concerns, which include forcing county employees to judge the safety risk of applicants who have no documentation. She told Stammel she thinks it’s appropriate for the board to tell the state Legislature its opinions, because “we are their constituents.”
Kennedy said she was on the fence about the vote, but ultimately voted for the resolution because of voting issues. She said with motor-voter provisions linking licenses and voter registration, and no provisions in the law to stop undocumented applicants for clicking a button to apply to vote, too, she did not feel comfortable with the bill.
Koutnik said he thought since many states had passed similar laws, including red states such as Utah and blue states including California, many of Kennedy’s concerns had already been worked out elsewhere. Bliss said he wished New York had written a larger bill to address security and voting concerns up front.
Sinnott-Gardner was not at last week’s meeting because she was at a state convention for county clerks. However, she told a CNHI reporter last month she thought it was wrong to give licenses to undocumented individuals.
“Anyone who is born here or who became a naturalized citizen has to jump through hoops to get a license, but now we are just going to hand them out to anyone?” Sinnott-Gardner said. “Why aren’t our politicians protecting us? This is totally insane.”
Koutnik did not address her remarks directly, but said he thought a lot of the concerns he had read about the bill were politicized falsehoods, and it would be just as hard for an undocumented person to get a license as it is for any other resident of the state.
“They’re not going to be just given out,” he said.
In the end, three Democrats, Koutnik and his fellow city of Oneonta representatives, Danny Lapin and Adrienne Martini, voted against the measure. Three more Democrats, Liz Shannon, Andy Marietta and Michelle Farwell abstained, making the vote 3,457 for, 1052 against, 1,232 abstaining and 487 absent.
The resolution of opposition will be sent to Cuomo and the area’s state and national office holders.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7211.