Rep. Phil Hart, R-Hayden, rolled out his own version of anti-illegal immigration legislation in the House State Affairs Committee Tuesday. Much like the plan of his Senate counterpart, Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, Hart's plan would focus on punishing employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, though there are stark differences in the two plans.
Hart's plan would not require employers to use the E-Verify system as Jorgenson's plan does, but it would strongly encourage employers to utilize the system as a means of providing themselves a "safe harbor," as Hart called it, against prosecution. Under the proposed plan, employers would be punished for "knowingly" hiring illegal immigrants continuously. Hart said that he simply wants employers to "play by the rules" and follow the laws already in place. He added that employers are provided with another line of defense against prosecution, which is the federal I-9 process, which also allows employers to check the worker's legality, but in a much less timely process than E-verify. According to Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, employers must use either the E-Verify system or the I-9 process to ensure an employee's legality within three days of hire of an employee.
If an employer is found knowingly employing an illegal immigrant, he could face a suspension of his business license for up to a year on a third offense. Hart designed the bill to have a "three strikes" clause that would help discourage hiring of illegal immigrants, and created a three-year window in which employers could accumulate the strikes. Upon the commencement of a fourth year, Hart said, employers could wipe their slates clean of the strikes.
Similar to another bill pitched in the committee today, Hart's bill would also punish potential employees for the use of fake documents to garner employment. The plan would enable counties as well as the state attorney general to ensure enforcement of the law, a provision of the bill which was of concern to Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise.
"We're putting a burden on the counties and state attorney general's office," said Pasley-Stuart.
Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, said that as a representative of many soft fruit companies in his district, he is concerned about the legislation's impact on those interests. Bilbao said that many of the employees of fruit picking operations work too quickly and move on to the next area, thereby not allowing employers to adequate time to check their identification with the federal government, which, he said, can sometime take days.
Hart responded that an employer in that situation would not be prosecuted because they would no longer be employing the workers in question.
The bill was introduced with one dissenting vote, cast by Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise.
In an interview with IdahoReporter.com following the hearing on the matter, King said that she believes that immigration is a problem that should be solved on the federal level.
"We already have a federal law on the book ... no one is complying with that, what makes you think we're going to do it with the state law?" asked King. "I think there will just be a lot of non-conformance."
King said she is in favor of studying increases in the numbers of migrant workers allowed in from other countries because she believes they are crucial to Idaho's economy.
"It's going to be a huge cost to Idaho if we lose these workers," said King.
The committee will hear more debate on the issue in upcoming weeks. The bill can be viewed online here.