The argument of the rule of law won over fears that an already underground community could become even more disenfranchised from law enforcement Friday when a bill to require some of Utah's state troopers perform a role in federal immigration enforcement passed its first hurdle.
HB237 was approved by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in a party-line 7-3 vote, after lawmakers grappled over whether the bill is an appropriate response to a lack of federal action.
The bill would require the Utah Department of Public Safety to enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security for a federal grant in which some state troopers would receive training to act as immigration officers as part of their day-to-day duty.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, acknowledged there could be a negative impact to some crime victims "in a sense that they may not want to call the police."
"There is a far greater principal as far as I am concerned," Wimmer said. "It is the principal of the rule of law. It is constantly violated and the federal government has failed us as a state."
The bill was one of four dealing with illegal immigration that were heard in House committees on Friday, and all but one will move on to the House floor. Another bill, HB26, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-Weber, was approved in a 9-4 vote by the Judiciary Committee. That bill prevents notary publics from using driving privilege cards as proof of identity.
HB237 also now moves to the House. Last year it received approval by the House but in the late hours of the session didn't receive a Senate hearing.
Donnelson declined to speculate on his chances this year, saying, "I'll just present it on the floor."
Friday's vote on HB237 came after Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank told committee members, "My fear is it would have a chilling effect on the entire (Hispanic) community."
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, expressed concerns that the bill lacked a fiscal note since participating officers would be sent to federal training for five weeks and could need overtime pay. Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said it could lead to racial profiling and could push a community already leery of law enforcement further into the shadows, making them less likely to report crime.
The Law Enforcement committee also heard two bills sponsored by Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights. The first was an overhauled version of HB95, which originally proposed a civil penalty for document fraud. The proposal was criticized earlier this week by the Attorney General's Office. The new version abandons a civil penalty, replacing it with a $275,100 appropriation that would bolster the state's identity theft investigations efforts.Morgan's second bill, HB262, was sidelined without a vote after she told the committee that it may be a moot point to look into what costs the federal government is responsible for when it comes to reimbursing states for the costs of illegal immigration. That's because Colorado had already done such research and found out that there is no legal recourse apart from funds the state is already getting.