SALT LAKE CITY – House Republicans pushed their leaders Thursday to ensure a controversial immigration enforcement bill will come to a vote rather than be lumped into omnibus legislation.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, later told the Deseret News he is already looking at coming up with a separate immigration bill that would make it easier for foreign workers to get agricultural visas.
Supporters of Sandstrom's HB70, modeled after an Arizona law criticized for requiring anyone suspected of being in the country illegally to show papers, feared the bill would not be heard. It would require police to ask about the immigration status of people they stop for other violations if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the people are in the country illegally.
Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, told the caucus that Sandstrom had taken much abuse for carrying the bill and had earned the opportunity to defend it during the session.
Clark referred to widespread speculation that Senate leaders wanted to see both enforcement and guest-worker proposals put into a single omnibus bill.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said there have been some conversations with the Senate about an omnibus bill.
But, Dee said, House GOP leaders made it clear they were not doing the same.
"Members of our body have worked many, many hours on these bills," Dee said. "We sent the message back fairly strong about the fact we were going to work with our process and our representatives were going to carry their bills."
Sandstrom said after the caucus that Clark's efforts on behalf of his bill were "a good way to assure my bill gets to an up-or-down vote." He said Dee's statement put his concerns to rest.
At least three other House members have immigration proposals in the works, including Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.
His HB253 released Thursday would penalize employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. It would also require business with more than five or more employees to register with E-verify, the federal program that tracks the legal status of workers. Utah currently requires businesses with 15 or more worker to use E-verify, but there are penalties attached.
HB70 has been introduced but is awaiting a fiscal note before being assigned to be heard by a House committee.
Sandstrom said he is already trying to put together another immigration bill this session, this one dealing with his version of a guest-worker program.
He said he is working with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to come up with federal legislation to streamline the visa process for agricultural workers.
That would enable Utah to create a guest-worker program that Sandstrom said would not be available to anyone already in the United States illegally.
"It's not giving amnesty," he said. "That is nothing I could ever go with."
Sandstrom said the proposal, which is still be developed, is intended to help win votes for HB70 as well as solve the need for foreign workers in the agricultural industry.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, said during the caucus he could not vote for HB70 unless some sort of guest worker program was also approved.
Sandstrom said he's been told other guest worker proposals being considered this session would have to be created by Congress, while his requires only an adjustment to the existing visa process.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy