SALT LAKE CITY— Utah is not the only state where lawmakers are attempting to address illegal immigration — which is traditionally a federal issue handled by Congress.
In fact, every state legislature that had a session this year considered at least one bill seeking some sort of immigration reform, according to a report Wednesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"The states are very concerned about the lack of action in the federal government," said Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Washington state legislator who is co-chairwoman of the conference's Task Force on Immigration and the States. "Without comprehensive federal legislation, states will continue to step forward to create local solutions. Ultimately, immigration requires federal reform, and states look forward to working with the federal government to find effective, comprehensive solutions."
In the first six months of the year, the report said state legislators nationally introduced 1,374 bills and resolutions about immigration in 46 states (four states did not have regular sessions in that time).
The report said 44 of those 46 states, including Utah, passed at least one immigration bill or resolution.
They passed a combined 191 laws and 128 resolutions. Five bills were vetoed. The resulting 314 enacted laws and resolutions were a 21 percent increase over the 259 pieces of legislation passed about immigration a year earlier.
The bill that attracted the most attention is an Arizona law that was scheduled to take effect Thursday, but a federal court blocked its most controversial parts.
The report said that as of June 30, legislators in five other states had filed bills to create Arizona-style laws — South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Michigan.
In Utah, state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, has said he will unveil a similar law in early August for study by legislative interim committees, and he intends to introduce it in Utah's 2011 Legislature.
This year, the Utah Legislature passed a bill requiring businesses that have more than 15 employees to use e-Verify or other means to ensure that new hires are legal residents.
The Legislature in past years had passed bills ranging from banning full driver's licenses for illegal immigrants — and instead allowing them "driving privilege cards" — to laws allowing children of illegal immigrants who graduate from local high schools to pay resident tuition rates at state colleges.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said states have introduced an increasing number of bills in recent years as immigration has become a hotter topic.
In 2005, 300 bills were introduced. That climbed to 570 in 2006; 1,562 in 2007; 1,305 in 2008; 1,500 in 2009; and 1,374 in 2010 so far.
"State lawmakers are forced to have to pick up the pieces of a broken federal immigration policy," said John Watkins, a Virginia state senator and co-chairman of the conference's task force.