SALT LAKE CITY — There was plenty of frustration expressed Thursday over a new Senate immigration bill that incorporates enforcement and guest worker provisions of several House bills.
"We will stand by the work of the House," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told reporters, suggesting the Senate stick with the House's immigration bills.
"The House has worked very hard, up to a year or more on these issues with all of the interested parties," Lockhart said. "We think that we've addressed all the issues."
She had little to say about the omnibus immigration bill announced Wednesday by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. "I can't comment on a bill I haven't read," Lockhart said, noting it has yet to be drafted.
Even Senate Republicans aren't ready to back Bramble's bill.
The Senate GOP caucus has talked behind closed doors for the past two afternoons about immigration legislation, but has not yet taken a position on any bill, including Bramble's, said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.
"I think his bill is premature to go to the floor," Waddoups said.
The Senate leader has said the majority caucus is open to considering individual immigration bills.
"We're trying to get our arms around a really big problem that we know we can't solve completely but we want to do the best we can from the state perspective," he said.
The House has already passed several immigration bills this session including HB70, modeled after Arizona's controversial illegal immigration enforcement law, and HB116, which would create a guest worker program with the permission of the federal government.
The sponsor of the enforcement bill, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said he would oppose the Senate's attempt to combine those and other bills into a single piece of legislation.
"Each one should be voted separately and stand on their own," Sandstrom said, calling the omnibus bill "D.C.-style politics. That's just not right."
He said he could not vote for a bill that includes what he believes is amnesty — allowing illegal immigrants a way to work in Utah without punishment.
Sandstrom said his own version of a guest worker bill, HB466, should surface Friday. He said it would apply only to foreign workers seeking work from their home countries, not those already in Utah illegally.
Under his program, Sandstrom said Utah businesses that need foreign workers would have to prove to the state no U.S. citizens are willing to take the jobs. Although the state would act as a gatekeeper, he said the existing federal visa process would be used.
The program would require the federal government to ease the quotas on visas for agricultural and hospitality jobs in Utah, Sandstrom said, adding he's getting help with that from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Gov. Gary Herbert also weighed in Thursday on the Senate's omnibus bill, but stopped short of endorsing it or any other immigration legislation during the taping of his monthly press conference on KUED Ch. 7.
The governor said he had not yet reviewed Bramble's proposal. "That's certainly moving in the right direction. I'm encouraged by what I hear. It's come about, I think, with the input of many."
So far, the governor said he hasn't heard any proposals on immigration that he would veto.
"There's not really any right now I hear talked about where I said, 'Oh, gee, I need to veto that,'" Herbert said. "I feel pretty good about the direction it's going."
The governor said he may well play a bigger — and possibly more public — role in the immigration debate in the coming days.
"We may use my influence for the later innings here, coming down to the last couple of weeks of the session," he said. "We're working behind the scenes to help shape things as we see a need."
Herbert said he wasn't avoiding a fight over the contentious issue.
"If we can coalesce around a comprehensive immigration bill, or at least complimentary individual pieces of legislation, I'm going to be pleased," he said. "It's not a matter of not messing up my hair. It's making sure we have the right outcome at the end of the day."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy