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Drivers with no license could face prison
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ATLANTA — Drivers stopped repeatedly without a license in Georgia could face prison time under a bill passed by the state Senate on Friday.
    Anyone caught driving with no license three times in five years would be guilty of a felony and face 1 to 5 years in prison under the plan.
    Even the first offense could bring up to two days in jail and a second offense could mean as many as 10, according to the bill.
    ‘‘The one certainty is that if you’re in prison, you’re not going to be out there endangering your children and my children,’’ said Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta, the bill’s sponsor. ‘‘It is a strong message.’’
    The bill had been predicted to revive debate over illegal immigration in Georgia after Wiles said earlier this month that most people stopped for driving with no license are in the country illegally.
    But the topic received scarce mention during Friday’s debate. Wiles said the bill was not meant to target illegals.
    A Democratic amendment that would have tweaked an existing law requiring traffic officers to note the nationality of arrested drivers was withdrawn without a vote.
    The new crime would apply to motorists who had never gotten a Georgia driver’s license or who had their license suspended — not those who don’t have their license with them or who have let their license expire.
    Wiles also tacked on an amendment giving judges the ability to excuse people who had recently become Georgia residents but not gotten a driver’s license within 30 days, as state law requires.
    Sen. Michael Meyer von Bremen, D-Albany, had complained that new residents, particularly military members stationed in the state who choose to become residents, could fall victim to a law they don’t know about.
    ‘‘I am all in favor of getting unlicensed drivers off the road,’’ he said. ‘‘But I think we need to be careful when we pass laws and we end up putting people in jail for something that is a simple mistake.’’
    The bill passed 40-8 and now goes to the House.
    On the Net:
    Senate Bill 15,
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