Colorado governor signs several immigration-related bills into law
Colorado Governor Bill Owens has signed into law several immigration bills passed during the state's recent special legislative session. Applicable employment-related immigration bills signed into law include: (1) House Bill 1001, which will require employers to prove that they do not employ undocumented workers in order to qualify for economic development grants from the state; (2) House Bill 1009, which will require that government entities issue and renew licenses, permits and similar authorizations only for those lawfully present in the United States; and House Bill 1015, which will require employers to withhold state income tax from workers who do not have a valid taxpayer identification number and whose wages are reported on Form 1099.

In addition, Governor Owens signed House Bill 1017 into law, which will obligate employers to document their compliance with federal employment verification requirements. According to the bill, employers must attest that they: (1) have verified the legal work status of their employees; and (2) have not knowingly hired an illegal immigrant. The bill also requires employers to verify that they have not altered or falsified their employees' identification documents. In addition, employers must submit documentation to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment demonstrating compliance with federal employment verification requirements. The bill empowers the department to conduct random audits of employers to ensure compliance with federal immigration laws and allows the department to request documentation if a valid complaint that an employer is not in compliance with federal law is received.

Employers who, with "reckless disregard," fail to submit the required documentation or submit false or fraudulent documentation will be subject to a fine of not more than $5,000 for the first offense and not more than $25,000 for the second and any subsequent offenses. The money collected from the fines will be deposited in an Employment Verification Cash Fund, which would be appropriated to the Department of Labor and Employment for the purpose of implementing, administering and enforcing the bill. House Bill 1017 will apply to employees hired on or after January 1, 2007. Owens also signed Senate Bill 5, which will protect immigrants from coercion involving involuntary servitude.

While the Colorado legislation is considered by many to be the strongest in the nation, Governor Owens expressed some disappointments regarding the special session. He stressed that lawmakers did not establish a verifiable identification process for obtaining employment in Colorado. Lawmakers also failed to impose strict timelines on the State Supreme Court for rulings involving citizen initiatives. Overall, though, Governor Owens expressed satisfaction at the accomplishments made during the special session. "The goal is to stem the tide of illegal immigrants coming into our state," said Owens. "Fortunately, in a bi-partisan effort, we have been able to take meaningful action."