TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas House committee endorsed a bill Thursday to require state agencies to check whether their new employees are in the U.S. legally by using the federal E-Verify database, but some conservative Republicans were pushing for a debate on broader immigration proposals.
House GOP leaders have said they prefer to avoid a debate on immigration this year, fearing it will be contentious. The chamber's Republican majority is split, with some GOP lawmakers favoring tough measures and others supporting a business-backed plan to create a program to place some illegal immigrants into hard-to-fill jobs, particularly in agriculture.
The measure clearing the Federal and State Affairs Committee on a voice vote would require state agencies to start using E-Verify to check new employees starting next year. Chairman Steve Brunk said the goal is testing the database before requiring private businesses to use it.
"Government shouldn't ask them to do something we weren't willing to do ourselves," said Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican.
But even before Brunk's committee met, Rep. Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, filed a request with the House to dislodge another E-Verify bill and force the chamber to debate it. The measure would impose an E-Verify requirement for firms holding contracts with state or local government agencies worth more than $5,000.
The House will vote on her request Friday.
It wasn't clear late Thursday whether the House would debate the bill clearing Brunk's committee. Speaker Mike O'Neal, of Hutchinson, told fellow Republicans during a Wednesday caucus that he believes bringing up any immigration bill will lead to a broad debate.
Other proposals would make it a crime to knowingly harbor an illegal immigrant and would direct law enforcement officers to check the status of some people they stop. Meanwhile, the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce is backing the jobs-for-immigrants plan.
"It is going to be bloody," O'Neal warned. "Friendships are going to be lost."
But Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican, said lawmakers tackle divisive issues "all the time." Kobach, a former law professor, helped write tough laws on immigration in Alabama and Arizona.
Kobach said by not acting, legislators make Kansas the region's most welcoming state for illegal immigrants.
As for the bill endorsed Thursday, Kobach said, "It is a very small step, but it's better than nothing."
The bill that cleared committee is HB 2575. The measure O'Hara favors is HB 2577.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Kansas secretary of state: http://www.kssos.org