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Licenses for illegals dominate session

Although Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer has abandoned plans to allow illegal immigrants to get New York driver's licenses, the issue still caused controversy during a meeting of the Chautauqua County Legislature on Wednesday night.

James E. Caflisch, R-Clymer, one of three legislators sponsoring a motion opposing Spitzer's proposal, still called for the measure to be brought to the floor. However, Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, ruled the measure out of order because of recent events.

After the meeting, Caflisch accused Ahlstrom, who is also county Democratic Committee chairman, of blindly following Spitzer.

"It's proved to be a very controversial issue," he said. "You have vast opposition across New York State. Over 72 percent of people in the state opposed issuing driver's licenses to people that are not legal residents. I think it is dangerous to go down that road."

Caflisch noted the issue also has became a problem during a recent debate for Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ahlstrom defended himself, saying he was following Legislature rules, does not blindly follow anyone and gave credit to the governor for a statement he made Wednesday.

"The one point [Spitzer] has made in this is that this is a direct result of the Bush administration [failure] to address the issue of illegal immigration and the number of illegal immigrants in this country."
In other matters, the Legislature voted to support federal legislation that would stop states from passing on Medicaid costs to local governments.

Ahlstrom said the legislation would have a "significant" positive impact on local taxpayers. He said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina has introduced the legislation, known as the "Medicaid County Protection Act of 2007."

Chautauqua County had to pay about $33 million in local costs for Medicaid before a "soft cap" was instituted a few years ago. Counties across the state back the action.

Since then, Chautauqua County's cost has been reduced to between $27 million and $28 million, but that amount has still gone up by about $750,000 each year.

The motion is being sent to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Sens. Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, both D-N.Y.

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