Immigration reform a non-starter on Utah's Capitol Hill
There will be no significant immigration bills passed by state lawmakers this legislative session after two key high-profile measures were killed Monday in strikingly different fashions.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said Monday his employer-sanctions bill aimed at curbing the hiring of undocumented workers couldn't get out of the powerful House Rules Committee and that he wouldn't try to resurrect it.
"It's dead," Sandstrom said.
Then Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who had the only piece of legislation left designed to replace Utah's guest-worker law, made a play to have it lifted from the Rules Committee while Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, sat in for House Speaker Becky Lockhart during the afternoon session.
But the move backfired when an unhappy Lockhart who arrived late to the floor watched from the back of the room while Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, asked for a recess as Herrod's rhetoric got heated.
"I have defended this body for the past six years about the process," Herrod said. "The way we have behaved this session and last session the people of Utah have lost faith in the process."
Herrod said the attempt to recess was a way to avoid voting on the bill and he would not be a "coward" by going along with that.
Dougall, who was obviously offended, called Herrod "bitter" and asked for the recess to "cool down."
After the 45-minute recess with Lockhart back in the speaker's chair the House never returned to Herrod's attempt to lift his bill for consideration.
Lockhart complained that Herrod had tried to maneuver around her.
"I think he took advantage of the situation that I wasn't on the dais and that it was the speaker pro tem," Lockhart said. "He had not communicated to [Newbold] what his intention was."
Herrod said he had originally planned to talk with Lockhart after the afternoon floor session but said he was worried that he was running out of time to get his bill, HB300, out for a public hearing.
His bill has been languishing in the Rules Committee since Jan. 27, and he said he wasn't going to push the measure. But after Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, saw his bill to repeal the Utah guest worker law tabled by a committee, supporters of Herrod's proposal saw it as a last chance to get rid of the guest-worker law.
That law, HB116, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, doesn't take effect until July 2013. It would set up a guest-worker visa program for undocumented workers and their families. It requires the undocumented workers to pass background checks and pay fines of either $1,000 or $2,500 and the state would collect the federal income tax until a mechanism was put in place for the federal government to gather it.
But it has been criticized as unconstitutional by tea party groups, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and some Republican lawmakers all claiming the state is attempting to usurp the federal government's authority to regulate immigration law.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who supported HB116, has recently made the argument that he believes the federal government could practice a form of prosecutorial discretion by not filing a lawsuit against the state as it tries to put the program in place.
Sandstrom's employer-sanctions bill was supposed to be less controversial as the lawmaker who is running for Congress began a long effort to court the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, lawmakers and Herbert to sign onto his E-Verify proposal. Modeled after Arizona's measure that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it would sanction employers for hiring undocumented workers by suspending business licenses.
"I thought I had a really good and sensible bill with teeth," Sandstrom said. "We have an unlevel playing field right now, and I think my bill was a way to level it."
But after the Rules Committee killed the measure in the morning, Sandstrom said he was going to let it go.
"I'm not going to stomp my feet," Sandstrom said. "I respect the process."
With Wednesday afternoon being the last opportunity for a committee hearing, Lockhart said the issue of immigration was "most likely" over for the session and said the effective date of HB116 coupled with Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill awaiting a ruling in federal court, time was on the Legislature's side.
"I think some of what is motivating the [Legislative] body is to take a rest," Lockhart said. "We'll have time to address the issues of HB116."
Troubled by commission
Don Guymon, a member of the conservative GrassRoots organization, said in a statement he was troubled by a 27-member Immigration Commission appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert and Legislative leadership that recommended overwhelmingly for lawmakers to skip passing immigration bills this session.
"It appears that our Legislature may forfeit their responsibilities as representatives of the people by following the advice of an appointed commission," Guymon wrote. "It resembles the 'Super Committee' that the feds depended on to solve the debt problem but ended up doing nothing."
Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber, said the commission which is chartered by statute to study the issue and make recommendations should be used as a guiding force on immigration reform.