SANDY — Despite the pleas of Utah's governor, lieutenant governor, some GOP lawmakers and the county assessor, delegates to the Salt Lake County Republican Party Organizing Convention called for the repeal of HB116, the guest worker bill.
HB116, passed by the Utah Legislature in its 2011 general session, creates an enforcement mechanism and requires employers to verify the immigration status of employees they hire.
The delegates, meeting Saturday at the South Towne Exposition Center, voted 256-192 to approve a resolution that calls on Republican legislators in Salt Lake County and Gov. Gary Herbert to repeal HB116 "at the earliest possible occasion."
The law, which will take effect in July 2013, sets up a process for undocumented immigrants living in Utah before May 11, 2011, to obtain a guest worker permit. Applicants would be fined $2,500 — $1,000 for overstaying a visa — for entering the country illegally. The program requires federal approval.
Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell had urged delegates to work "within the family" to resolve their differences on issues of illegal immigration.
"Let's not make this a make-or-break issue in the Republican Party," Bell told the more than 700 delegates who took part in the convention.
But GOP delegates were not convinced, approving a resolution, that said HB116 violates the tenets of the county, state and national party platforms.
Delegate Steven Decho, who described himself as a "recovering Californian," said HB116 was "one of those Nancy Pelosi bills. You have to pass it before you know what's in it."
Still others claimed that HB116 had received as little consideration by lawmakers as the "Obamacare" legislation in Congress.
Responding to the delegates' vote, Herbert said he believes that there are many misperceptions of the package of bills passed by lawmakers. The debate on HB116, in particular, he said, began last summer.
The delegates' vote, he said, was "reflective of the division of the public" over the issue.
"People are uncomfortable and they fear the worst," he said.
The federal government's inaction has put the states in a position that they must act, he said. Hopefully the legislation passed by Utah will force the federal government's hand, he said.
"Doing nothing is not an option. We're going to do something, as imperfect as it is," Herbert said.
Herbert signed HB116 on March 15, along with companion legislation also passed during the general session of the Legislature.
Party officials said 711 delegates took part in the organizing convention, during which they selected new county party leaders. Two women will head the party, chairwoman Julie Dole, a registered dietician who has been intensely involved in Republican Party politics in recent years, and vice chair Michelle Mumford, a stay-at-home mom who is an attorney.
Dole said her immediate goals include transparency, fundraising and recruiting candidates.
"Obviously, the county mayor is a big target for us," she said.
Acting chairman James Evans said the GOP was riding momentum in Salt Lake County. In the recent election, the Republican Party reclaimed control of the Salt Lake County Council. Republicans reclaimed four state House seats and one Senate seat, he said. "That's thanks to you," he told the delegates.