SB 501

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
Legislative Alert: Senate Bill 501
Signed into law 5/26/2016
Primary Sponsor: Jim Stamas (R-District 36)
Other Sponsors: Ken Horn (R-District 32), Wayne A. Schmidt (R-District 37), Goeff Hansen (R-District 34)
Bill Status: The bill passed the Michigan Senate on 2/4/2016 by vote of 37-0. It was referred to the Michigan House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on 2/9/2016.  The Committee had a first hearing to receive testimony on 3/1/2016.  The bill was reported out of committee on 3/22/2016. An amendment passed in the full house on 5/11/16 and the bill moved on to the third reading before a full vote in the House. The bill was signed into law on 5/26/2016.
Reps. Chang and VerHeulen proposed a major amendment to the bill, which passed.  It is our understand that the amendment was carefully negotiated with the Secretary of State to ensure that she would not oppose it.  This made it possible to win the support of enough members for the amendment to pass.   Full text of the amendment is available here (page 802 of the House Journal):
The amendment means that holders of foreign licenses that are currently recognized by treaties will continue to be able to drive in Michigan with those licenses.  A full list of those countries is linked here in a document published by the Secretary of State.  Mexico, Brazil, India, and the Philippines are among those countries whose drivers' rights will not change and they will not be required to have or prove legal presence to drive legally in Michigan.  SB 501 would also provide for new recognition of licenses issued by countries whose licenses are not currently recognized under the treaty, including China, but would subject holders of licenses from those countries to a "legal presence" requirement.  So, significant concerns about when and how police would verify legal presence at roadside remain.
Under the new law, all drivers with foreign licenses will need to carry a translation of their license.
The act will be effective 90 days after the end of the current legislative session, which means that it will be effective around March 31, 2017.
MIRC's original legislative alert on SB 501 can be found below.
MIRC Legislative Alert - SB 501 - February 11, 2016
Michigan is bound by two international treaties signed by the United States that permit drivers from other countries to operate motor vehicles in the state. According to the treaties, a person who has a license issued in one signatory country may use that license to drive in the other signatory countries.  As a result, citizens of certain countries can drive legally in Michigan (or any other U.S. state) if they possess their license that was issued in their home country. The Michigan Secretary of State issues a list of these signatory countries here.
In addition, Michigan law currently permits the Secretary of State to extend reciprocal driving privileges to the citizens of other countries if the Secretary determines that the country's standards for licensing drivers correspond substantially to Michigan's standards, and if the other country extends those privileges to Michigan drivers. The document linked above indicates that Germany and the Republic of Korea are the only two countries that currently enjoy reciprocal status.
Analysis of SB 501
Senate Bill 501 would impose additional requirements on nonresident drivers that the international treaties do not contain. The bill says that a nonresident could only use another country's driver's license to drive in Michigan if the driver possesses a valid passport, a valid visa, or other valid documents to verify his or her legal presence in Michigan.  
The result of this change would be that Michigan police officers would have to become experts in the dozens of documents issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, the Immigration Courts, and the U.S. Department of State. Police officers would need to make a determination when stopping a driver whether the documentation was validly issued, and whether the documents impart a certain status that the state considers sufficient to prove "legal presence." Foreign nationals traveling through Michigan - whether they are here as tourists, here on business working for a multi-national company, or for any other reason - would find themselves at the mercy of whatever training or verification system that the state, county, or local municipalities have decided to use to satisfy this new requirement.  
In addition, the bill would eliminate the requirement that the Secretary of State determine that a country's standards are comparable enough to Michigan's before issuing a letter of reciprocity to that country.  
Note: since 2008, Michigan law has not permitted "undocumented" foreign nationals to obtain a Michigan driver's license.  This bill has no effect on that law - this bill only pertains to nonresident drivers who have licenses from other countries.