It seemed like a given that the Legislature would grant approval to a task force assigned to study policies relating to illegal immigration.
After all, the enactment of a separate omnibus illegal immigration bill, SB81, was delayed until July 2009, so that the task force would have time to study its ramifications and give legislators time to make any necessary changes. SB81 would create barriers against illegal immigrants obtaining jobs or public benefits.
However, in the final hours of the legislative session, the immigration task force died because of an unrelated dispute over education. Still, even without legislative approval, it appears the study could move forward.
Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Salt Lake, said the Legislature's management committee could decide to assign an immigration study, so that the state can evaluate the impact on issues ranging from the economy to individuals' lives.
"The whole idea of the task force is certainly not dead," Jones said. "I am certain we will have a group studying the whole immigration issue, which needs to happen."
The task force sponsor, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, also expressed hope the study would happen. He said "strong personalities" in a dispute over an unrelated education study had stymied the immigration study, although he acknowledged a cooling down period may be needed before any agreement is reached.
"This is going to come down to their leadership and our leadership," he said. "I have high hopes it's not dead. I will be urging my leadership to be on their best behavior and get over there and talk."
Regardless of whether or not a legislative look at illegal immigration and the potential impact of SB81 materializes, Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said SB81 is still set to take effect in July 2009.
"There just won't be anyone to review it and study the impact," Hickman said. "When the governor signs it, it becomes law. ... It passed both houses quite convincingly. I don't think that support will go away."
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. initially had expressed concerns about the immigration measures, particularly SB81 and efforts to repeal the driving privilege cards and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. However, as SB81 evolved, Huntsman became more amenable to it, especially when the implementation date was delayed by a year.
On Thursday, Lisa Roskelley said the governor's signature on SB81 isn't contingent on an official task force since "the provisions that were most troublesome to the governor of SB81 were dealt with before the legislation was passed."
Still, Roskelley said, the governor is working with legislative leaders and would like to see a study of immigration. Huntsman, along with a coalition of business leaders and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue had supported the study idea.
"It's important to understand the total impact of what immigration policy would do to Utah," Roskelley said. "It's also important to factor in the federal government. ... The governor feels like it's important to understand what the federal government is going to do and what we should do to align with the federal policy."
Standing by itself as SB97 the task force received overwhelming support in the Senate, passing 25-1. But it was held in the House and combined with educational studies in HB490. Even so, approval seemed a given, after the House voted 71-0 to send HB490 to the Senate.
The conflict arose when the Senate changed HB490. House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara, told the Deseret News late Wednesday that the bill would die in the House because the Senate reneged on an education-related agreement.
On Thursday, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the disagreement stemmed over how to study math, science, and performance pay for teachers.
The House had added five extra meetings of the Education Interim Committee to look at the issue, while the Senate changed the bill to create a task force.So, amid the disagreement, two other task forces died as well. Along with the immigration task force, another casualty was the Education Systems for the 21st Century Task Force, which would have studied how the state's public and higher education systems meet the education and work force needs of the state in the global economy.