A bill to require public employers to use a federal Internet-based system passed the House Monday and is the first of several that are likely to hit the floor this session.
Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, said HB98, which passed the House 54-16, is an identity-theft bill that targets deadbeat parents, child molesters and others attempting to avoid detection. He downplayed its connection to illegal immigration, although assistant attorney general Richard Hamp has said that accounts for more than 90 percent of Social Security number misuse in the workplace.
It would require public employers, such as the state and school districts, to use the federal E-Verify program to ensure that the name, age and Social Security number of any new hire match.
"We need to have the government take the lead at looking at identity theft," Donnelson said. "Especially since it's one of the fastest-growing crimes in the state of Utah." While most of the bills come from GOP legislators, there are some sponsored by Democrats. Pundits on both side say re-election pressures could be playing a role in the broader support the measures appear to have as they move through the legislative process.
In the past, while identity-theft bills have had support, those targeting illegal immigration haven't fared so well. The last major bill dealing directly with the issue that became law was the driving privilege card, which replaced undocumented immigrants' drivers' licenses in 2005. A bill to repeal that law is up for a hearing today, as is one to repeal a 2002 law that gave qualified undocumented immigrants the ability to pay in-state tuition. Both are sponsored by Donnelson.
Ronald Mortensen, who heads CitizensForTaxFairness.
org, pointed to a recent Deseret Morning News poll that showed 74 percent of the 413 people polled support penalizing employers who hire undocumented immigrants. That support included 80 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats. The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, had a 5 percent error margin.
"I think this broad-based support from both parties are numbers lawmakers will have to address when they run for re-election," Mortensen said. He added that tying in multiple forms of identity theft "is showing the whole picture."
To that extent, Utah's anti-illegal immigration groups are joining into a single coalition to support measures such as HB98.
On the other side of the issue, Antonella Romero-Packard, who co-chairs the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, said it's not surprising that Democrats Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, and Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, would sponsor bills aimed primarily at the workplace.
McCoy has said a bill he's drafting to make hiring undocumented immigrants an unfair trade practice is aimed at businesses and not employers. Morgan's bills, similar to bills she sponsored last year, are targeted at identity theft and the federal government.
"This is about votes," Romero-Packard said. "It is not about doing the right things."
Romero-Packard agrees that identity theft is a problem, but she added that many of the measures lawmakers are considering have a real human impact. She's hoping lawmakers will take a step back and support measures that focus on looking at the scope of the issue and encouraging federal action."I can understand why people are frustrated," Romero-Packard said. "They really are frustrated because of inaction on the federal level."