Tennessee bills cover English-only, photo licensing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/9/2012

Tennessee lawmakers could soon take up for consideration bills to limit driver’s license testing to English and another bill that addresses a voter ID law in the state.

One bill is intended to help ensure that aspiring drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their Tennessee licenses to drive.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, is pursuing a bill to narrow the language options on the state’s written and oral portions of the driver’s license exam, including commercial licenses, from four to one. Tennessee now permits exams to be conducted in English, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.

Supporters say they are concerned that people are allowed to drive on roads without a command of the English language. They say it’s a matter of safety.

Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers. They also say restricting tests to English-only would also hurt economic development in the state.

The bill – SB2602 is in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.

Another effort up for consideration in the Senate panel could soon result in the phasing out of most non-photo driver’s licenses issued in the state.

Tennessee law exempts people 60 years old and older from the requirement to have a photo on their driver’s license. However, a new rule that took effect the first of the year requires voters to show a federal- or state-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

The state is responsible for issuing photo IDs for voting purposes free of charge this year.

Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has offered a bill to rid the state of non-photo IDs. His bill – SB2267 – would require photos to be included on licenses for affected drivers starting July 1.

According to a fiscal note on the bill there are 196,190 valid non-photo driver’s licenses issued by the state. The standard renewal cycle is five years.

The state is expected to lose money on the change. It is estimated the picture requirement would result in an additional $98,000 in revenue for the state during each of the next five years. Photo licenses cost $17.50 compared to $15 for non-photo licenses.

However, state expenditures are expected to exceed $120,000 during that time to accommodate additional staff to process licenses.

Tracy said the bill would not only address concerns about voting, but also cover the importance of having a photo on driver’s licenses.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Tennessee, click here.

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