Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Representative Stephen Sandstrom presents his ideas about immigration reform during a debate.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Steve Sandstrom has pulled his illegal immigration bill from a scheduled committee hearing Wednesday afternoon apparently to revise it in an effort to change estimated enforcement costs.

The Orem Republican is questioning the accuracy and motivation behind the estimate made public this week by the Legislative Fiscal Analysts Office.

Fiscal analysts released figures showing it would cost local governments $5.3 million to $11.3 million annually to detain and verify the status of people suspected to be in the country illegally. The Utah League of Cities and Towns supplied legislative number crunchers data used to reach the estimates.

"If $11.3 Million dollars is the true cost, then the problem is much larger than even I thought it was," Sandstrom said in news release late Tuesday. "This practice of attaching large fiscal notes for bills they do not like and no fiscal notes to bills they agree with must end."

He called the estimate a veiled attempt to defeat his bill.

The league has not taken a position for or against the legislation. Executive director Ken Bullock said Sandstrom didn't like the outcome of the fiscal analysis so he's crying wolf.

"I think it's just posturing and pandering to a constituency he's trying to get excited about this," he said.

The proposed law would require local police agencies to verify the legal status of people detained for other offenses if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally. Those found to have a criminal record would be referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those with a clean background would be fingerprinted, photographed and released.

A police chief in one city said it would take an officer about 3 ½ hours to process someone in that scenario, taking them away from other public safety tasks.

In a meeting Monday with city and county officials, Sandstrom said he sees it more like a routine traffic stop and other duties police perform daily to enforce the law.

"I don't understand how that can be an additional cost," he said.

Bullock said the figures were arrived at by surveying police chief statewide. "It's a very conservative number," he said. "We're not trying to gouge anything."

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee was scheduled to hear Sandstrom's HB70 Wednesday at 4 p.m., but the agenda was revised to exclude it.

In the press release, Sandstrom said the legislative estimate does not call for additional appropriations but only examines hypothetical costs incurred by law enforcement agencies. 

The estimate does, however, include a yearly $570,000 allocation in the Utah Department of Public Safety for enforcement and $143,000 in the Attorney General's Office to defend against potential lawsuits.

During the House GOP caucus Tuesday, members were given a quick lesson on fiscal notes that was reportedly planned before the big price tag on HB70 surfaced.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, reminded the caucus that fiscal notes don't determine policy, but "this body drives the policy." He urged members to advocate for bills they believe in no matter the estimated cost.

He told reporters later the note on Sandstrom's bill doesn't spell it's death.

"I don't think it kills it," Dee said. "Obviously, it makes it tougher when you're in a tough fiscal year. But it's policy, and we make policy."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, noted House rules allow a bill sponsor to ask for a new fiscal note if a bill is amended and suggested that could happen with Sandstrom's bill.