A Senate panel this morning called on Congress to pass immigration reform and approved a study of potential federal remedies for costs associated from illegal immigration.

The Senate Government Operations Committee unanimously approved the resolution to Congress, SCR5, after its sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, equated state efforts at immigration legislation to trying to stop a flood at the bottom of a waterfall.

However, before it was approved, SCR5 was amended to remove a provision deferring state action until Congress addresses the issue.

"The massive failure of the Congress to address this issue has forced the states to move forward," said Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, who is sponsoring SB81, a comprehensive measure to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining jobs and public benefits. "I really believe by the states going forward and doing what we're doing, it is the only way we're going to put enough pressure on the federal government."

The panel also gave a unanimous nod to HB262, which requires a legislative audit on areas the state must fund under federal mandates, and looks for potential areas of federal reimbursement.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, supported the bill, though he expressed concerns "the bill fails to recognize the totality of this issue."

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, responded

that another bill pending in the Senate would create a task force to study both the costs and benefits of illegal immigration.

"It's a pretty straight forward one," Morgan said. "All this bill does is ask for a study to be done on how we can get help from the federal government."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com