BOISE, Idaho For a second straight year, Idaho lawmakers have killed a measure that would crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The House State Affairs Committee unanimously rejected a bill Friday that would have required employers to verify workers' immigration status. Companies could have had their business licenses suspended or revoked for hiring people unauthorized to work in the United States.
The proposal is modeled on a law passed last year in Arizona to weaken economic incentives for immigrants to sneak across the border. That law, which took effect on Jan. 1, has already caused scores of immigrants to go to other states or back to their homelands.
"It's a problem not being dealt with in the way it should be," said Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, one of the bill's supporters. "If (the employer) can show that he did make a good faith effort, there would be no penalty."
States across the country are responding to calls from constituents for tougher anti-immigration laws. Oklahoma passed a similar law to Arizona's last year, and the Mississippi Legislature approved a bill this week. Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana and other states are also considering legislation this year.
In Idaho, the measure would have left enforcement up to county prosecutors and the state attorney general.
A first violation would have required an employer to sign an affidavit verifying the firing of all unauthorized workers. A second violation would have resulted in a 10-day suspension of a license. A third violation would have meant permanent revocation.
The measure also would have punished illegal immigrants who falsely impersonate other people with up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Businesses could have protected themselves by checking employment eligibility on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's electronic verification system.
The committee bombarded Hart with questions about the proposal, including the possibility of unfair complaints by competitors, the economic consequences of the Arizona law and the potential impact to Idaho's business and farming communities.
"You're asking employers to basically police federal immigration law," said Republican Rep. John Vander Woude, a Nampa dairy farmer. "You're asking the local business people to be the law enforcement agency."
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, an immigration lawyer who abstained from the vote, said the Arizona law has sent that state's economy into "a tailspin."
"Have you done any studies on that?" Labrador asked.
Hart said he hadn't.
Also on Friday, the Senate State Affairs Committee agreed to hear testimony on a separate measure dealing with illegal immigration. Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, presented a revised copy of a resolution that accuses the federal government of shirking its constitutional duties in allowing illegal immigrants into the country.
The measure calls for the president and Congress to secure the nation's borders, end economic incentives to illegal immigration and implement a guest-worker program with enforcement standards.
McKague's resolution, modeled originally on a sample resolution from the conservative John Birch Society of which she has been a member, no longer calls for an end to birthright citizenship or a rejection of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
"This is kinder, and not as rude," McKague told the committee.
Last year, lawmakers passed several laws dealing with issues surrounding illegal immigration but stopped short of adding to punishments for employers who willfully hire illegal aliens.
Lawmakers passed one law aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from receiving most public assistance and another that makes English the state's official language. A Senate committee killed a third measure that would have required employers to pay for health care costs of illegal aliens when those workers get injured on the job.