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Kearns asks for $600K for Green Light Law, but still won’t give licenses to undocumented immigrants

Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns proposes his office's 2020 budget to the Erie County Legislature Wednesday.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is asking for more than $600,000 to pay for New York state’s Green Light Law, but says he still has no plans to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.



Kearns proposed the additional $667,550 during Wednesday’s budget hearing before the county Legislature, saying the funds would be needed to hire interpreters who could process undocumented immigrants' foreign documentation. 


Speaking to reporters afterward, Kearns said he doesn’t expect to receive or spend that money, but wanted to warn legislators about the potential cost of following the law’s mandate.


“We just want to put a number out there to let the public know and let the Legislature know that this is how much approximately we would think it would cost,” he said, adding he’d return the money to the general budget if he did receive it. “Since I’m not going to … process the licenses, we don’t need that money. But as they're budgeting, I want them to at least have a number in their mind of what the impact could be of this law.”


Kearns, as the leader of the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles offices, has vowed not to follow the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, better known as the Green Light Law, which is set to take effect Dec. 14.



Credit Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns speaks with reporters after Wednesday's budget hearing.

Kearns has said the law is unconstitutional and meant to shield undocumented immigrants from federal immigration authorities, while the state contends it’s meant to make sure more drivers are licensed and insured.

Kearns even filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction on the law, but a federal judge dismissed the case last week. 


Kearns announced Wednesday he plans to appeal U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford’s decision, saying Wolford only ruled Kearns did not have the legal standing to challenge it.

“Is (the law) constitutional or is it unconstitutional? That decision has never been answered by the judge,” Kearns said Wednesday. “She punted, and it’s a very, very important decision that she didn’t make.”


As for his $667,550 proposal to pay for the Green Light Law, Kearns said he calculated it by figuring he’d have to pay an interpreter $50 an hour to work at each of the county’s DMV locations. 


The figure might be somewhat dubious. It’s unclear whether DMVs will have to actually hire their own interpreters, or just continue to rely upon the state and federal government to process foreign documentation. Kearns also admits the $50-an-hour rate was mostly a guess.


“It could be more than $50 an hour. We don’t know,” he said. “All of our budgeting is a guesstimate.”

Kearns blames the state for the lack of clarity, saying state officials have yet to provide any training or regulations for the Green Light Law, despite the fact it goes into effect in one month.


“We’re in no man’s land,” he said.


Kearns said the funding proposal is also something of a contingency plan, saying the clerk’s office will need the money if he’s removed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and replaced with a clerk who will follow the Green Light Law.


“Whether I’m the clerk or whether I’m not the clerk, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the office is an important office to the taxpayers of Erie County,” he said, adding the clerk’s office generates about $20 million in revenue a year.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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