Sen. Steve Urquhart is making good on a promise to push the repeal of key immigration reforms and Friday will publicly unveil bills to scrap the state’s guest worker law and the driving privilege card.
Both bills — drafts of which were provided Thursday to The Tribune — are expected to be highly controversial and even the St. George Republican admits they might be in for a fight to get passed.
“If they kill a bill, they kill a bill,” Urquhart said. “The sun will come up again.”
But Urquhart said he’s simply representing constituents, largely in Washington County, that toe a tough line on illegal immigration. That county, for example, just put an ordinance into place that mandates companies register with E-Verify — a government-run program designed to weed out undocumented workers — or face possible revocations of businesses licenses.
His proposal to repeal HB116, the guest-worker law signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, would gut the original measure by removing the penalties to be paid by undocumented immigrants in order to obtain guest-worker permits.
It also would eliminate the structure for collecting taxes from undocumented workers, the Department of Public Safety’s charge to conduct background checks and run the program and would remove the restitution account for those fees that would be used to help reimburse identity theft victims.
Urquhart said he could’ve simply removed one line from HB116 — the trigger date of July 1, 2013. That would’ve had the same effect of preventing the measure from ever kicking in. But he also wanted to send a message.
“We completely lack the authority under the Constitution to establish our own immigration naturalization scheme,” Urquhart, an attorney, said. “I want it off — out of the code. It shouldn’t be there.”
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he figured the measure was coming.
“I’m not surprised,” he said.
Waddoups said he expected the repeal measure to get a committee hearing. But a look at the roster of the Senate Rules Committee — which decides if and when a bill is released for public hearing — doesn’t look especially friendly to the repeal effort, at least based on voting last session..
Of the eight members on that committee, five voted in favor of HB116 while only two voted against it. However, Chairwoman Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was one of the guest worker law’s tougher critics.
Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said the pending introduction of Urquhart’s bills was welcome.
“I’m happy with a repeal. I’m happy with a repeal and replace. I’m happy with anything,” Mortensen said. “But I’m also willing to leave things in place if they want to run [for re-election] on that.”
But Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, who initiated a version of a guest-worker bill last session that became part of HB116, said the Urquhart measures were disappointing.
And Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, said repealing HB116, would make lawmakers look like “a bunch of clowns.”
Repealing the state’s driver-privilege card is also a thorny issue for lawmakers.
Under Urquhart’s proposal, all driving privilege cards issued to undocumented immigrants would expire in December and would stop being issued July 1. It strikes mention of the driver-privilege card in several sections of the Utah code, ranging from fee collection structures to provisions that they can’t be used as ID to prove age when purchasing alcohol.
It is estimated more than 40,000 people have been issued driver-privilege cards, but Urquhart said Utah is an outlier in providing undocumented immigrants government-sanctioned permission to drive in the state.
“I answer to my constituency and most of them want to do away with it,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to represent them.”
Urquhart ran a similar repeal measure last session, but it was substituted and replaced by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, in a way that essentially left the program intact. Bramble was the original sponsor of the measure signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2006 amid arguments that it would allow undocumented drivers to obtain auto insurance.