Rep. Stephen Sandstrom stood for two hours Friday while his fellow House legislators debated, changed, questioned and struggled with his enforcement-only immigration bill that had waited 10 months for this moment.
And when it passed 58-15, he smiled and still didn't sit down. Instead, he was quickly encircled by TV cameras and fellow lawmakers peppered with questions and sought out for handshakes.
"I was surprised," Sandstrom, R-Orem, said. "I figured I had 45 votes, but for it to pass by that much is gratifying."
Only one Republican voted against it Rep. Jeremy Peterson of Ogden, who is also the House sponsor for the immigration reform bill put forward by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City. Two Democrats, Rep. Susan Duckworth of Magna and Neal Hendrickson of West Valley City, voted for it.
The journey for HB70 is nearing its completion though its final fate is still uncertain. It sailed through a House committee hearing last week 9-3, and the overwhelming strength of its victory in the House had supporters crowing about its chances of being signed by Gov. Gary Herbert.
But once again, the bill underwent significant changes this time at the hands of Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield.
McIff amended the bill on the floor to remove a provision under which private citizens could sue local police departments for not enforcing Sandstrom's bill. Sandstrom considered the McIff amendment "unfriendly" because it removed some teeth.
It was the second major change to the bill in two weeks.
Last week, Sandstrom removed a provision that would require local police to investigate the legal statuses of those being questioned for class B or C misdemeanors. That change simply changing "shall" to "may"check status would drop the cost, estimated in a fiscal note, from a range between $5 million and $11 million to about $150,000 a year.
Sandstrom said the McIff change removed what he perceived as the ability of individuals or groups to act as watchdogs on local police, but he also said officers "are sworn to enforce the laws" and believed they would do so.
The lawmaker, in his closing speech on the floor, said HB70 was necessary for Utah.
"Will this solve all of our problems with illegal immigration? It will not," Sandstrom said. "Will it be a deterrent? Yes it will."
Several lawmakers said they "struggled" with voting for it, but railed against the federal government for not enforcing federal immigration law.
"If the federal government would simply do its job, we wouldn't be here today," Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said, his voice rising.
But absent federal enforcement, many lawmakers said the Sandstrom bill was an appropriate step though some suggested other bills addressing guest workers were needed as well.
Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, raised concerns the bill would encourage racial profiling.
"It creates mistrust, fear and intolerance," Wheatley said. "It's a dishonest piece of legislation."
The debate also involved an unexpected participant Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.
Christensen, who had been largely silent on the immigration issue, said he wanted to see if he could "be a bridge between the sides" and offered an amendment to allow any U.S. citizen living in Utah to sponsor an undocumented person facing deportation.
He said his intent was to try to find compromise on the issue, but Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, likened the amendment to amnesty. Christensen's amendment was killed.
Herrod, who has argued that those who want to come to the country legally are put at a disadvantage by those coming across the border illegally, said he appreciated the plea for compassion but felt it was one-sided.
"If we're going to talk about compassion and who gets to come to this country, then where is the compassion for the millions who want to come to this country legally?" he asked.
With its overwhelming passage, opponents of the bill are looking to make a last stand in the Senate.
Tony Yapias, Proyecto Latino de Utah director, has called an emergency meeting for Sunday at Centro Civico to urge opponents of HB70 to sign the Utah Compact a document endorsed by many who don't like the Sandstrom bill. It attempts point by point to address the issue of illegal immigration by seeking federal solutions and keeping families together.
Michael Clara, president of the Utah Hispanic Republican Assembly, said the Sandstrom bill was "so watered downâ¦it is nothing more than a message bill" and predicted its defeat in the Senate.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she had been leaning toward supporting the bill and that the McIff amendment made her feel more comfortable. She also said she felt the amendment ultimately led to the higher vote total in the bill's favor.
Lockhart also said that she expected other pieces of legislation on the issue of immigration to come before the floor. But she thought the message to take away from Friday's vote was clear.
"The message is, in Utah we are serious about enforcement," Lockhart said.
Find outmore online
O See how your lawmaker voted. > bit.ly/hsBGmu
Read the bill's text, as amended. > bit.ly/gM7eyi
A brief look at Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's HB70
What happened Friday? • The House passed HB70, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only immigration bill, by an overwhelming margin, after two significant amendments toned it down from its original version.
What's next? • It now will head to the Senate, where its fate is unclear.
When will senators debate the bill? • Senate chief deputy Ric Cantrell said that body plans to tackle various immigration bills at the same time rather than through a piecemeal approach.