After receiving overwhelming support in the House, an omnibus immigration bill aimed at creating barriers against illegal immigrants finding jobs or public benefits now has veto-proof support.
SB81, which would take effect in July 2009, underwent a slate of amendments Monday before the 56-15 vote to approve it, and sponsor Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, says he'll recommend the Senate accept the changes and work on any issues in the interim.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. had expressed concerns about the original bill, but Lisa Roskelley, the governor's spokeswoman, said Monday that the bill as passed "can be a helpful tool."
One key provision that Hickman had thought was included but isn't would revoke the business licenses of employers who don't comply with the law. As approved, SB81 would only apply to public employers and those they contract with by requiring them to use the federal E-Verify system to check the legal status of new hires.
On that measure, Hickman said, "we have plenty of time" to include it in the interim.
Also, labor unions were concerned about a House amendment that requires them to use the federal E-verify system to check the work eligibility of their members who work for state contractors. Hickman said that issue would also be looked at in the interim.
The bill had originally been set to take effect this year, with the exception of a few business provisions. It was amended to the delayed date in the Senate to give time for a separate legislative task force to study the issue.
The task force is included in HB490, which includes interim study issues.
"We have started the process and also instituted the task force," Hickman said. "Both trains are running along the same track together."
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill back to its original July 2008 implementation.
"I've heard from my constituents, people want something done," Sandstrom said. "People are upset at the federal government for doing nothing."
Rep. Steven Mascaro, R-West Jordan, said questions about the bill's costs $1.8 million in the first year as well as logistics to law enforcement and businesses are "a very clear reason why we should allow one year for this bill to implemented."
Hickman had originally expressed concern that after November's election, the bill could be gutted before it has a chance to work. On Monday, however, he said he doubted much about his bill would change, though there may be some refining in the next legislative session.
A key amendment Monday changed a prohibition on transporting undocumented immigrants for commercial gain so that it only applies to someone who knowingly brings them into the state or takes them further than 100 miles within the state. The crime is a Class A misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to a year in jail.
That means that a construction company picking up undocumented day laborers or a farmer transporting undocmented workers to a field would be innocent.
The misdemeanor provision had been among the most contentious, and was amended in the Senate to clarify that nonprofit organizations were also exempt.
On Monday, Hickman said he didn't see the change as watering down his bill, saying "casual transport" was never his intent.
"We're not trying to fill up the jails," he said. "We're just trying to bring some degree of reason."
Other amendments made Monday:
• Make it so that contractors doing business with the state and each of their contractors would be required to do their own verification of employees' legal status.• Re-enforce the bill's provisions against discrimination.