Published Saturday | March 8, 2008
Penalties for hiring illegal immigrants advance in Legislature

LINCOLN — A bill to deny tax incentives to Nebraska businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants has been sent to the full Legislature.

On a 5-2 vote Friday, the Revenue Committee advanced the bill sponsored by State Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha.

That action came the same day a separate committee formally reported its decision to kill Gov. Dave Heineman's proposal to require government agencies to verify that those seeking benefits, such as unemployment compensation, be legal U.S. residents.

Howard's Legislative Bill 784 bill would require companies applying for state business tax incentives to certify that they have not knowingly violated immigration law by employing undocumented immigrants for five years before submitting their applications.

If later found to have hired illegal immigrants, a company would lose future tax benefits and be required to repay those already received.

The bill's fate in the full Legislature is uncertain. It has not been given priority status. With lawmakers scheduled to adjourn April 17, Howard said she doubts they will have enough time to debate it.

However, she said, the committee's vote says, "Yes, we recognize we have a problem — and it needs to be shared by all concerned, including employers."

Of four immigration-related bills introduced this year, Howard's is the only one voted out by a committee.

In addition to killing Heineman's benefits proposal, LB 963, the Judiciary Committee killed a bill by Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln calling for agreements to allow local law officers to help enforce federal immigration laws.

The Judiciary panel also is sitting on a proposal by Sen. Tom White of Omaha that would allow businesses to be sued for damages by individuals, local governments or the state if they knowingly or recklessly hired illegal immigrants.

The Judiciary Committee voted 5-1 last week to kill Heineman's bill, in part because it also proposed to repeal the state law allowing some undocumented immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. Chairman Brad Ashford of Omaha unsuccessfully sought a compromise to keep the measure alive.

Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning both said they were disappointed.

"LB 963 was about one issue and one issue alone — accountability in government to Nebraska taxpayers. This was a targeted proposal that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state and local benefits," Heineman said.

"I'm saddened and frustrated that the Judiciary Committee bypassed an opportunity to ensure tax dollars are reserved only for our citizens," Bruning added. ... d=10277598