Click the orange play button above to listen. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Ayres-Brown: What impact will this legislation have on undocumented individuals in Rhode Island? Why are driving privileges important?

Betancur: This legislation is going to have a huge impact, not only on undocumented individuals themselves, but also their families. Now, Rhode Islanders who are undocumented will be able to drive safely to work or school or doctor's offices. They’ll be part of our economy. And so I think that's a really incredible thing, that yesterday's legislation really changes people's lives.

My mom was undocumented, and she actually drove without a license for a very long time. And to this day, she still gets nervous behind the wheel, even though she's a US citizen today. And so the emotional, mental impacts that the loss of licenses or access to driving privileges has had in the last decade in our communities is huge. And having this access, it's going to be like a breath of fresh air for many in our community.

Ayres-Brown: The Latino Policy Institute helped produce a report in 2016 that looked at other states that have permitted undocumented adults to receive drivers licenses. And it found that this kind of bill can have positive consequences for the entire population. Can you explain that a little more?

Betancur: Yes, so our report, which was in partnership as well with the Roger Williams Law School, found that some of the benefits to this are connected to our economy. We're already starting to see trends of insurance costs going down. People are able to spend in the economy, people are purchasing insurance, people are purchasing cars.

They also have to pass a driving test, which is a huge deal. So now we're going to know that people are safer in the street. They know how to do it, it's a really important thing. Because there's going to be, you know, a couple of other people on the road with us. And so it's going to impact more things than we thought.

Ayres-Brown: Advocates have been pushing for this for over a decade. This kind of bill has already been approved in over a dozen other states, including Connecticut, and recently Massachusetts. Why do you think it took so long in Rhode Island?

Betancur: Sadly, in our state, sometimes really great things take a really long time. I think that there has been some, you know, lack of political will when it comes to past leadership. We've had great advocates and great legislators who have been pushing this bill for a very long time. However, I think it's been tough. It's been tough, sometimes in one chamber, sometimes in both. Finally, you know, last year the Senate voted it first and the House wasn't able to get to the finish line. This year, the Senate did it right away as well. And we finally got to the finish line.

Ayres-Brown: While I have you, the [state] Senate this week just approved your appointment to the Rhode Island Board of Elections. That was after a brief controversy when Gov. Dan McKee indicated that he would appoint you, a Democrat, to replace the only remaining Republican on the seven-person board. But I’d note for listeners that that’s not the case. The governor’s office said that was a mistake, and you’re taking the place of another Democrat. With your appointment now confirmed, what specific goals or changes do you hope to achieve on the board?

Betancur: First, I want to absolutely dive into learning from within the board, how, especially this upcoming election is going to work. How we're going to implement the new voting laws with Let RI Vote, which are going to provide more access and security to our elections.

I'm Latina. I am a daughter of immigrants who just became citizens. And so I want to bring that lens to the Board of Elections. There haven't been a lot of people in the Board of Elections that look like me, or have similar backgrounds professionally and personally. So I'm really proud to bring that in. Because I think we, as a state and I think as a country, we need to do a much better job engaging and meeting people where they're at when it comes to Rhode Island voters who come from historically underserved communities. And I think we can and should be doing a better job. 

Ayres-Brown: Marcela Betancur, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. Thanks so much for joining me.

Betancur: Thanks so much, Antonia.

Antonia Ayres-Brown can be reached at