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Law passed by Utah lawmakers not enforceable

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Posted at 9:31 PM, Jun 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-30 23:31:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was passed by Utah lawmakers and signed by the Governor, but a new law that was supposed to take effect Wednesday will be ignored.

“It seems kind of silly to me that we can’t do this,” said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry.

Perry was the co-sponsor of SB-184, which would have expanded the background checks for undocumented immigrants seeking a Driving Privilege Card.

Currently, potential drivers only need to be checked in nine western states. The proposal would have required a check in every state.

But months after it was given the approval of legislators, the FBI stopped the law from going any further. A provision of the bill would have required that any criminal information uncovered in a driver check be shared with other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

“It’s basically secondary dissemination,” said Nannette Rolfe, director of the License Division for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

If the law had merely used the FBI’s criminal database to do the background checks, according to Rolfe, that would have been permissible. However, because it allowed for that information to be used for other purposes, such as deferring an immigrant to federal agents, the government denied the state access to the system.

“Because the law is on the books, how do we not comply with the requirements of the law?” asked Rolfe.

For the last few weeks, state officials have been trying to come up with an answer. After consulting with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Rolfe said they determined they could simply not enforce it.

“The way it’s written it’s a ‘may’ instead of a ‘shall,’ so it gives us that discretion,” she explained.

The law would have increased the initial card fee from $80 to $109.50 to cover the expanded checks. Because it will no longer be in effect, the former rules stay in place.

But Perry believes the proposal will return next legislative session, with amended language. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, expressed deep frustration and disappointment with the federal government. Speaking to FOX 13 over the phone, he said they will “work around” the issue next year.

“We need to have some way that if we’re going to issue driver privilege cards, that we can check and make sure that we can find these people that are committing these crimes, and not allow them to drive on our highways,” Perry said.