SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Stephen Sandstrom intends to make changes to his controversial illegal immigration bill that he says would make it less costly for local police agencies to enforce.
The Orem Republican said he is revising HB70 to give law enforcers more discretion in how they would detain and verify the legal status of people. He said the changes will maintain the intent of his proposed law.
Sandstrom plans to make the new bill public at a Thursday news conference. The proposal was scheduled for legislative hearing Wednesday afternoon, but he pulled it from the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee agenda. He said the revised bill would ready for a Friday hearing.
“I think he’s doing exactly what’s he’s done from when he started this bill. He’s listening,” House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said. “Many of us, including myself, have talked to him about ways he might remove some of the mandatory things in the bill.”
Replacing the word "shall" with the word "may" would give police more latitude in enforcing the law. The current version would require police officers to verify the legal status of people detained for other offenses if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally.
Dee said Sandstrom has been willing to consider changes that are “as easy as a ‘may’ instead of a ‘shall,'’' to lower the fiscal note, which legislative analysts pegged at $5.3 to $11.3 million a year for local government.
Sandstrom’s amendment spells out that it will be at the discretion of law enforcement whether to take a suspected illegal immigrant to jail and applies only to misdemeanor cases, Dee said.
South Ogden Police Chief Val Shupe said that change could also be problematic for law enforcement because agencies will interpret it differently. Some wouldn't do anything, while others would take an aggressive approach, he said.
"I could see where that really puts departments against each other," he said, adding those who pursue it could be accused of racial profiling.
Whatever the final form, enforcement will have to be well coordinated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Shupe, a board member and past president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.
After a meeting with Sandstrom this week, Gov. Gary Herbert said he felt strongly that local government should not be burdened with the enforcement costs.
"Rep. Sandstrom has made several meaningful changes in the bill," Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom said Wednesday.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said it’s not clear what effect the change will have on support for the bill.
“It’s hard to even say whether it’s successful or not as it is,” she said. “It hasn’t had a hearing.”
She noted the House GOP caucus has not taken any positions on immigration. “We’ve discussed it here and there,” the speaker said. The ultimate cost of the bill, however, won’t be the deciding factor.
“Fiscal notes have influence but we believe in good policy,” Lockhart said. “If we believe this is a good policy,” a way will be found to fund it.