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The Denver City Council voted 12-1 yesterday evening to oppose a ballot initiative that would require police to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers.

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz was the only Council member in favor of Initiative 300, arguing that tougher measures are needed to address uninsured and unlicensed drivers, including undocumented workers.

But the majority of her colleagues described the initiative as “racist,” arguing that the initiative’s lead proponent, Daniel Hayes, is only seeking to harass a specific segment of the city’s population — undocumented, Hispanic drivers.

“See this initiative for what it is,” Councilman Michael Hancock told Denver voters last night. “It is an injustice, it is a racist initiative, and we simply know better than that.”

Despite stating last year that the ordinance is about curbing illegal immigrants from driving without a license or insurance, Hayes now tells the Denver Daily News that his initiative is about putting “teeth” into a similar ordinance backed by voters last year. The law requires police officers to impound the cars of unlicensed drivers. But Hayes said officers have been using their discretion and not impounding enough of the cars.

The initiative aims to solve several problems that arose out of the 2008 law by exempting rental car companies and victims of theft, said Hayes. Several citizens also complained of having their cars towed and needing to pay $2,500 bond to release their vehicle simply for forgetting their license at home.

Widespread media attention to an Iraqi war veteran whose car was impounded under the ordinance only added to the controversy. Airman Brian Furman was forced to raise nearly $4,000 to cover bond and fees associated with driving with an expired Missouri driver’s license. Even though the Denver district attorney’s office dismissed the traffic charges, Furman’s car sat in the city’s impound lot because of the ordinance.

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