BOISE – Idaho lawmakers balked Monday at sweeping immigration legislation that sought to penalize employers who hire illegal workers and enact an array of other provisions, from penalizing “sanctuary cities” to requiring driver’s license tests to be in English.
Senate Bill 1303 was killed in committee on a 7-2 vote, after a tense three-hour hearing that saw lots of testimony on both sides – but much more against the bill than for it.
Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who drafted the bill on behalf of Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said it would have created jobs immediately “if a hiring decision that would have gone to an illegal alien goes to a U.S. citizen.” But Ken McClure, attorney for the Milk Producers of Idaho, told the panel, “People do not flock and stand waiting on line for work as milkers in dairies.”
Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, an array of agriculture and business groups, testified against the bill. “The domestic work force no longer wants to do a lot of these jobs, even with a 10 percent unemployment rate,” Olmstead told the committee. “It is our experience in Idaho that the domestic labor force in Idaho is not applying for manual labor positions.”
As a result, employers ranging from agriculture to rock quarries are relying primarily on a foreign-born work force, Olmstead said, but he said there’s an inadequate federal system for bringing in such guest workers legally. “The federal system is broken,” Olmstead said.
Jorgenson’s bill would have required employers to use the federal e-Verify system to check on the immigration status of an employee, even if the employee is a relative.
Earlier, a House committee killed legislation from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, also aimed at penalizing employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers. One remaining immigration bill, SB 1271, would make it a crime to use false documents for employment; it’s still awaiting a Senate committee hearing.
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