The sponsor of a bill requiring employers who do business with the state to verify the identity of new hires suspects his bill was intentionally quashed by a House committee.

Enough members of the House Business and Labor Committee walked out Monday before the debate started on HB127 so that a quorum was lost. In that committee, seven lawmakers must be present to act on bills.

The bill requires companies that contract with the state to use the federal Basic Pilot program to verify the identity of new employees. The Internet-based program detects whether names, Social Security numbers and other personal information match. It doesn't detect fraudulent documents if a person's identity has been stolen.

A quorum of seven people was gained long enough to amend the bill to specifically exclude subcontractors but was lost again during testimony on the bill.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, sponsor of HB127, called it "an intentional move" to get Democrats to leave.

"The thing that outrages me the most is the state Office of Ethnic Affairs torpedoes this bill," Sandstrom said, pointing out that Luz Robles, director of Ethnic Affairs, had talked to some committee members before his bill came up.

Robles denied those claims, saying she was merely providing information to lawmakers about "data" on the bill, which her office is tracking.

"I don't know why they left," Robles said. "I didn't even know they didn't have a quorum....If they ask for information, even Rep. Sandstrom, we can provide that information."

While some Democrats did leave, at least one, Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, stayed. And at least one Republican, the committee's vice chair, Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, was absent from the debate.

With only one committee hearing left — one that already has a full schedule — the committee chair, Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, said HB127 would be sent back to the Rules Committee. He then adjourned the meeting.

It was the committee's second hearing on the bill. Last time, before opting not to vote on the bill, some committee members expressed concerns about the potential for those who contract with the state being responsible for making sure subcontractors also used the verification program.

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After Monday's inaction, Sandstrom said he believed he would have had the votes needed to move the bill forward if a quorum had been present. He said he isn't sure what the chances are that the Rules Committee will send the bill to the floor for a vote.

"It's an issue of identity theft, plain and simple," Sandstrom said. "This state needs to step up and do something about this problem."

Another bill dealing with employment verification, HB156, will be heard by the House Government Operations Committee today at 4 p.m. That bill requires all businesses in Utah use the federal employment verification system.


E-MAIL: dbulkeley@desnews.com