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Anti-alien bill introduced in Idaho, then killed

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, proposes legislation to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens, 3/16/09 (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, proposes legislation to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens, 3/16/09 (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE - North Idaho Sen. Mike Jorgenson proposed far-reaching legislation to punish Idaho employers who hire illegal immigrants on Monday, but just hours after the bill had been introduced, it died without a hearing.

Jorgenson said Monday afternoon that the Senate State Affairs Committee chairman, Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, had informed him the bill wouldn’t be scheduled for a hearing in the committee, which means it’s dead.

“I’m sorry that he’s caved in to Idaho dairymen and agricultural interests,” Jorgenson said heavily. “They’re taking a pretty strong position that they need their illegal immigrants.”

Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Milk Producers of Idaho, said, “We do have a philosophical difference. He feels employers should be punished - we feel they shouldn’t.” Olmstead said his group will continue to push for “immigration reform that is realistic, substantial, and provides a system in which the supply of labor can be brought up to meet demand.”

He said the dairymen don’t favor either amnesty for illegal immigrants, or having them all “packed up and shipped away.” Said Olmstead, “One is unfair, and the other is unwieldy.”

Jorgenson’s bill would have penalized Idaho employers who hire people who aren’t legal U.S. residents by suspending or revoking their business licenses. It also proposed a series of other steps to make life in Idaho more difficult for illegal aliens, including rejecting driver’s licenses for those who had them in other states but can’t prove citizenship, and cutting off state funding to any Idaho city that declared itself an immigration “sanctuary.”

“Folks, there’s a big reason why we need to do it,” Jorgenson told the State Affairs Committee on Monday morning. He said Idaho prisons now house 487 foreign nationals, and of those, “425 are from Mexico. That’s costing the state of Idaho in the neighborhood of $10 million a year,” he said, “…as soon as they get out we send ‘em back to Mexico.”

Senators on the committee at that point asked Jorgenson to address what his bill does, rather than issues regarding Idaho’s corrections system. They also raised an array of technical and legal questions about how his bill would work, and questioned whether its provisions would violate employers’ due-process rights.

Jorgenson read his oath of office as a legislator to the committee, and said that’s why he’s bringing the bill. “What this bill is about is enforcing employers to hire legal citizens only,” Jorgenson told the panel, adding that some will say that’s not a state issue. “Yes, the states do have the right to enforce or pass this type of legislation,” he said, shuffling through a tall stack of papers. “Indeed, states do have the right to enforce employers to hire legal citizens, and they have the right to do that through licensing.”

He said he modeled his bill after far-reaching legislation enacted in Arizona. That state has seen everything from less rush-hour traffic to fewer limited-English students in school, he told the committee, as they dropped out after the bill passed.

Jorgenson proposed similar legislation last year, which also was introduced but failed to get a hearing. He said he was advised to get together with the dairymen to look for common ground. He said he tried, but they didn’t want to compromise.

“This is, I think, one of Idaho’s biggest little dirty secrets,” the Hayden Lake Republican said.

McKenzie said, “The ones who were going to be regulated by this were pretty staunchly opposed to the bill as it’s drafted.” The committee chairman said he scheduled the bill for the introductory hearing on Monday morning in part to send a message to ag interests. “I wanted them to understand that this is an issue that’s important to the Legislature, it’s an issue that’s not going to go away,” he said. “They need to come to the table.”

Olmstead, the dairy lobbyist, said Jorgenson’s bill was “the wrong approach for the state of Idaho to take, to go for a punishment rather than a fix. The demand for the labor is there. You’re not going to get an unemployed high-tech worker from Boise to move to Shelley, Idaho to sort potatoes in a warehouse.”

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