After more than two hours of debate, an omnibus bill aimed at creating barriers against undocumented immigrants obtaining jobs or public benefits passed a preliminary Senate vote today. The Senate voted 21-8 to move SB81 to a final Senate vote.
The debate was spread out through the morning and afternoon sessions in the Senate, and included multiple amendments that seemed to strengthen support for the bill, both in the Senate and with the business and religious communities.
Key to the discussion were amendments clarifying a Class A misdemeanor for transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants knowing, or in reckless disregard, of their status.
That provision was amended to clarify the criminal charges would only apply to actions taken for financial gain and that charitable or humanitarian assistance by charitable, educational or religious organizations are exempt, as are religious missionaries or ministers who had been members of the organization for one year.
"This just allows them to perform those duties," Hickman said.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, questioned whether the law would mean that a landlord who discovers a tenant is undocumented would be forced to evict that tenant.
"My understanding is it doesn't require them to evict as long as they're willing to be in violation of the act," Hickman said. "That is a judgement call on side of landlord I can't answer."
Questions also arose about the criminal liability of taxicab drivers and hospitals.
Hickman responded that because federal law requires hospitals to provide emergency service, they would continue to be able to do so. As for taxis, Hickman said even though taxi drivers transport people for pay, they wouldn't be criminally liable unless they knew the passenger undocumented.
Other amendments approved by the Senate Thursday morning included:
• The removal of provisions against private entities issuing identification cards to undocumented immigrants, while keeping in place the provision for public entities.
• A change to a clause against employers who discharge a legal worker while keeping an undocumented worker in place from a discriminatory practice to an unlawful one.
• Removing a requirement for an affidavit attesting eligibility by those applying for public benefits.
The amendments are the results of negotiations between Hickman and religious and business leaders.
Following the morning session, Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said his perception is that Hickman sought out a balance between compassion and the rule of law in the slate of amendments he presented.
He pointed specifically to Hickman working with the religious community on their "major concern about their obligations to perform ... temporary housing, medical care, feeding the poor, classic religious activities."
Hickman said the changes were designed to make the bill more palatable to business and religious organizations, saying "we've got a really good piece of legislation now."
The changes also brought the business community around to supporting the bill. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is endorsing a comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate will resume debating this afternoon.
"We had several amendments that were very important to the business community represented by the Chamber of Commerce," said Lane Beattie, the chamber's president. "All of our amendments were approved ... we are supporting Sen. Hickman's bill."
Beattie said the Chambers' endorsement isn't inclusive of other members of a coalition of business leaders calling for a task force to study the issue that would be created by a separate Senate bill. However, he said, the Chamber also supports that measure as well.
Beattie did say he hoped concerns about landlord-tenant relations brought up during the morning session would be addressed using amendments before the bill receives its final approval. Today's vote would be preliminary approval, with another Senate vote needed before the measure moves to the House.