Rep. Phil Hart's, R-Athol, bill to help curb illegal immigrants from working in Idaho failed to clear committee Thursday due to questions over the licensing restrictions of the legislation.
The Hart plan focused on punishing employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and would have given a "three strikes" solution to the problem. Upon the first violation of the code, employers would have been required to terminate that employee and sign a court document saying they had done so. If the second infraction occurs, the employer would lose his business license for up to ten days. If an employer is caught a third time, he would lose his business license for up to one year, though the length of that punishment would be up to the judge presiding over the case. Employers who went three years between violations would have been able to have their strikes wiped off their record. Businesses with three strikes would not be allowed to close shop and morph into a new business to avoid the penalty, Hart said.
The bill also provided general misdemeanor penalties for workers who provided false identification to gain employment, as well as any person who aided that person in their efforts, such as a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk.
Employers could have found "safe harbor" under some parts of the Hart plan. Employers would not have been required to use the federal E-Verify system to determine the legal status of a new worker under the bill, but would have been strongly encouraged because it could have provided an absolute defense from prosecution for employers. If a worker was determined as legal by E-Verify, an employer could not face any prosecution. If an employer chose to use the federal I-9 verification system, which is required by the federal government anyway, the employer would have been able to show a "good faith" effort to verify employees, which would have also been a shield against prosecution.
Lawmakers offered sharp criticisms of the plan before the vote. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned the fairness of pulling business licenses. He noted that though many of the businesses that operate in the state have business licenses in some form, not all do. He said that he was unaware of a license required to grow fruit. Luker was also skeptical of a prosecutor's ability to keep track of all the licenses that could have potentially been involved.
"How would it be consistently applied?" asked Luker.
Hart said that under the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act, pulling business licenses is the only thing that the state could do to prevent employers from using illegal immigrant labor.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, a farmer himself, was critical of the lack of enforcement outlined in the bill. Andrus asked Hart about the effects of raids upon dairy and fruit picking operations.
"What happens to the cows - does the Humane Society come in and milk the cows?" asked Andrus.
Several groups represented at the hearing opposed the legislation because they felt it isn't the state's duty to get involved in immigration. Brent Olmstead, representing the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, and Alisha Clements, representing the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN), echoed each other's sentiments on the bill.
"The state does not issue green cards, the state does not issue passports ... this is a federal issue," said Olmstead.
Clements said ICAN members are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, they don't want to see an enforcement-only method of dealing with the problem. She said the bill "falls very short" of accomplishing that goal. She urged lawmakers to consider finding ways to bring illegal workers from the "underground economy" into the "real economy" so the state could reap the financial benefits of having more workers paying taxes.
Before voting, Andrus said he appreciated what Hart was trying to do, but he felt it went in to wrong direction.
"I would rather see a monetary penalty rather then a revoking of a license," said Andrus. He added that all the lawmakers were for immigration reform, especially if it resulted in guest worker limits being raised to provide an adequate workforce for the state.
Luker offered a motion to gut the bill of the "three strikes" provisions and keep the sections on providing false identification for employment, but that move failed. The bill was then killed on a voice vote.