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Seven immigration bills die in House committee
Two GOP measures targeting border issues pass at 8-hour hearing


Seven immigration bills die in House committee
Two GOP measures targeting border issues pass at 8-hour hearing

By Myung Oak Kim, Rocky Mountain News
February 22, 2006

Seven Republican bills targeting illegal immigrants and, in some cases, their employers, were killed Tuesday along party-line votes, signaling the difficulty of finding common ground on the issue.

The 11-member Democrat-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee committee heard testimony from 43 people about a variety of issues related to illegal immigration. More than 200 people attended the hearing at the Colorado Capitol.

Ten Republican bills were discussed during the eight-hour hearing. One was postponed. Only two of them passed.

One would require an audit of a 2003 state law restricting the use of foreign identification to get state licenses. The other would prohibit a bail bonding agent from posting bail for a suspect known to be in the U.S. illegally. Both are headed to the appropriations committee.

A bill proposed by Rep. Bill Crane, R-Arvada, that would prohibit public contracts to firms that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and would require licensing boards to revoke their licenses was killed but may be resurrected later this session. The committee voted to postpone a similar bill, also sponsored by Crane.

The committee defeated bills that, among other things, would have required school districts to collect citizenship data on students, train local law enforcement to detain and report illegal immigrants, and make employers subject to civil lawsuits for acts committed by illegal-immigrant employees.

Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said he was not surprised by the committee votes.

"I expected it," Schultheis said. "Why? Because there's been no initiative taken with this issue from the other side."

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, had urged bipartisan cooperation on the illegal immigration problem. More than six weeks ago, Romanoff promised a package of bills to go after employers who hire illegal immigrants. But only one Democrat-sponsored proposal related to immigration has been introduced so far, and has been assigned to another committee.

Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, credited Crane for trying to find solutions. He said there was support for the substance of Crane's House Bill 1101, if the title were to be changed.

Weissman said some issues that were discussed in testimony may end up being addressed later in the session. He cited two examples: collecting state taxes on day laborers and penalties for "coyotes" - or people who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border.

"This is not the end of the immigration debate in this building," Weissman said.

Some sponsors conceded that their bills were designed to send the message that lawmakers are fed up with the broken immigration system.

"I'm not under any illusion that this bill has any chance of passing this evening," House Minority Leader Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, said about his House Bill 1082, the civil lawsuit measure.

"This is an issue that needs attention. This bill is an attempt to expose bad business."

More than a dozen anti-illegal immigrant activists, including members of the Colorado Minutemen, Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform and Defend Colorado Now urged the committee to pass every bill.

"If we collectively care about our country's future, we must realize that our country was founded on the rules of law," said Fred Elbel, a leader of a proposed November ballot measure that would deny most government services to illegal immigrants. He said the bills would help in "strengthening protections against the illegal alien invasion of our country."

But a larger number of people from a broad range of groups testified against many of the bills.

A state health department official opposed a measure aimed at restricting food retailers from hiring illegal immigrants, saying that public health employees cannot handle the additional burden of checking immigration status.

A state police chiefs representative criticized a bill that would add immigration duties to local and state law enforcement.

"We can pick up illegal detainees all day and all night long, and we can transport them to county jails, but nothing is happening to them," said John Patterson of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. "To pass an unfunded mandate down to the sheriffs will raise huge issues. Our jails are full, our prisons are full. We have no place to put these people."

Schultheis, however, said during an exchange with Patterson that he believes taxpayers would fund new prisons for illegal immigrants.

Robert Greene, a lobbyist representing the Colorado Laborers District Council, testified in support of a bill that would prohibit public contracts with firms that knowingly employ illegal immigrants. Greene said construction labor unions can't compete with illegal immigrants who are hired at much lower salaries.

Greene said a contractor recruited 28 workers from Argentina to do pipe-fitting work at a construction site two years ago in Colorado Springs. He said the Argentinian workers were illegally here and were paid $10 to $12 an hour, compared with union pipe fitters that get $23 to $26 an hour.

The hearing included discussions that drew cackles from the audience.

During an exchange with a day labor center director, Schultheis was asked whether he assumes that someone who doesn't speak English is here illegally.

"If you don't speak any English, you don't have a basic understanding of English, therefore you're not legal," Schultheis said.

Schultheis drew outbursts when he pointed out to the day labor center director that she brought up the race issue and the committee didn't.

"None of this committee is bringing up race," Schultheis said. "That needs to be clear."

Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, called Schultheis' comment disingenuous.

"The comment was made that we might as well build schools in Mexico," Carroll said, referring to a Schultheis comment earlier in the hearing. "That was a direct implication of race in this conversation."

Tom Kowal, of Coloradans for Immigrant Rights, said none of the bills are "workable."

"These bills are an attack on our most treasured national values - inclusion, equality, fairness, justice and humanity," Kowal said. "These bills are about nativism, they are about racism, exploitation and discrimination."

Still, Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said voters are concerned about illegal immigration and want lawmakers to find solutions.

"This is not a Republican-Democratic issue as far as the voters are concerned."

10 bills under consideration

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee considered 10 bills addressing illegal immigration. Here's a summary:

HB 1101: Requires employers seeking a public contract to prove they do not employ illegal immigrants; allows the state to revoke the professional licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants; requires police to check the immigration status of suspects.

Defeated 11-0*

HB 1062: Requires school districts to collect and report citizenship information about students; says no legal action would be taken against students and families of illegal immigrants.

Defeated, 6-5

HB 1082: Allows civil lawsuits against employers for acts committed by illegal immigrant employees, on or off the job.

Defeated, 6-5

HB 1133: Prohibits public contracts with companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants; prohibits an illegal immigrant from gaining resident status to get in-state college tuition.

Defeated, 6-5

HB 1134: Train and authorize local and state law enforcement to identify, process and possibly detain suspected illegal immigrants encountered during patrols.

Defeated, 6-5

HB 1286: Requires food establishments to verify the immigration status of employees through a federal pilot program; prohibits a food establishment from getting a health department license if it hasn't applied for the program.

Defeated 5-5 (Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, excused)

HB 1290: Requires employers to learn how to verify the work eligibility of current and future employees and fire those found not to be eligible.

Defeated, 6-5

HB 1306: Requires the state auditor or a contractor to study the implementation of the Secure and Verifiable Identity Document Act.

Passed, 11-0

HB 1131: Prohibits a bail bonding agent from posting bail for a defendant known to be in the U.S. illegally.

Passed, 11-0

HB 1343: Prohibits public contracts with firms that knowingly employ illegal immigrants; requires contractors to certify that its workers are legal residents. Also sets up a tip line to field reports of suspected violations.

Postponed

*May return during the session

Source: State Rep. Dave Schultheis; General Assembly

Kimm@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2361. Staff writer John C. Ensslin contributed to this report.