SALEM - The House Transportation Committee voted to introduce a bill that would require people to show they are legally in the U.S. before obtaining or renewing an Oregon driver's license.

With immigration a passionate topic, critics of the legislation crowded the Capitol steps and filled several hearing rooms Tuesday to ask lawmakers not to take the procedural action.

Some acknowledged being in the country illegally, but pleaded with legislators for compassion, saying that they needed a license to drive to work and take care of their children.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered the DMV to tighten driver's license requirements in November; those rules are to start Feb. 4.

Legislation considered by lawmakers will formalize the requirements.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted for a nearly identical bill earlier this month. Both bills advance to the legislative session, which also starts Feb. 4.

Rep. Terry Beyer, D-Springfield, who chairs the House panel, said after the vote that there are legitimate concerns about the security of state driver's licenses, but the federal government has failed to deal with broader questions of border security and immigration.

"The federal government is forcing us to use driver's licenses as national identification, which is not fair," she said. "A license to me shows you are qualified to drive, know the rules of the road and have taken the tests."

Said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland: "This issue is tearing apart our state, our families and our communities," he said. "We have to find a way to come together and help people."

The new rules require proof of identity and Oregon residency and a Social Security number that would be verified with the federal government. Applicants without Social Security numbers must submit a U.S. passport, visa or other documentation from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Oregon is one of seven states that does not have that standard, which is required under the federal Real ID Act of 2005. Critics of illegal immigration have said anything less than a proof-of-legal-presence standard opens the way to drug trafficking and terrorism.

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