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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Contrary to state and federal law, the state continues to provide commercial drivers' licenses to nonresidents, a Salt Lake newspaper reported.
One of every 12 of the 1,895 people who obtained a Utah commercial license this year listed his or her home address on applications as that of the West Valley City headquarters of C.R. England, one of the nation's largest trucking firms.
The company acknowledges that those applicants came from out of state to attend its truck driving school for a couple weeks to obtain a commercial license and work for the company nationwide, the Deseret Morning News said in a copyright story Tuesday.
Utah issues licenses to nonresident students at truck-driving schools despite post-9-11 efforts to tighten access by illegal immigrants and other nonresidents to drivers' licenses.
Utah Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers said that laws may soon change and he wants to hold off enforcement to ensure they do not unnecessarily close 14 or so driving schools in Utah and worsen a national driver shortage.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who successfully sponsored legislation banning full drivers' licenses to non-citizens, said the situation "flies in the face of some of the problems we were trying to address with illegal aliens and certain criminal elements."
Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, said that after being approached by trucking companies and talking to Flowers' department, he plans to sponsor a bill to create a short-term commercial license for out-of-state students. That would allow them to finish school and initial on-road training and then obtain a permanent license from their home states.
Bramble said he likes Alexander's approach because the short-term licenses would require proof of citizenship. He said he may become the Senate sponsor of it.
The News said that documents it obtained through a state open records law request showed England was able to halt repeated attempts to enforce the laws by lobbying Gov. Jon Huntsman and others.
It said documents show officials began questioning the legality of the license practice in 2003, when investigations showed commercial licenses were being issued without testing and "that nonresident individuals were coming to Utah merely to obtain a driver's license or (commercial license), contrary to Utah law."
A state memo said that raised red flags because "many of the 9-11 terrorists had obtained multiple fraudulent drivers' licenses from various states."
A memo said, "Just recently, our state Bureau of Investigation discovered that nonresidents ... were paying facilitators to help them obtain a Utah driver license. They would fly into Utah for the day, attempt to obtain a Utah license and leave the state the same day."
Flowers said his Department of Public Safety prepared early this year to require all license applicants to verify they are permanent Utah residents.
"That sent us into a real tizzy that continues to this day," said Dan England, chief executive officer of C.R. England and president of the Utah Trucking Association.
He said 95 percent of students at his company's local school come from out of state, so such a change could close the school that now produces 30 to 40 graduates a week.
England officials met on Jan. 20 with Huntsman, to whom the company had given a $5,000 campaign donation.
The company argued that the law could be interpreted to allow issuing licenses to its students because it allows licenses for students who seek Utah residency or for people who accept employment in Utah for other than seasonal work.
A Feb. 2 memo showed the governor's office arranged a meeting between England and Department of Public Safety officials.
Flowers said that even before that meeting, his department had decided to hold off the proposed enforcement changes.
"Our law was, and is, still rather ambiguous about what constitutes a resident," he said.
Flowers said the department also thought that Bramble's bill might clarify residency requirements.
After Bramble's bill passed, lower-level state officials urged enforcement of residency requirements for commercial licenses. That did not happen, and instead Flowers "met with the governor's office to request a written legal opinion on the issue with C.R. England," memos said.
While waiting for the attorney general's opinion, "We are going to allow C.R. England to operate according to status quo," a Department of Public Safety memo said.
That almost changed again when state officials soon became concerned that the practice might violate federal law and jeopardize federal transportation funds for Utah.
Flowers said his department told driving schools that the state was preparing to enforce the law.
Dan England said he and officials of the American Trucking Association (which donated more than $750,000 to federal races in the 2004 campaign cycle) met with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Claron Brenchley, director of regulatory services in the Department of Public Safety, said federal officials then said they were not going to enforce the federal rules while considering rewriting them to help truck driving schools that serve out-of-state students.
On Nov. 15, the state attorney's office issued its opinion that issuing the commercial licenses to out-of-state students violates state and federal law.
Information from: Deseret Morning News, http://www.deseretnews.com
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)