A House committee has printed another bill that would penalize Idaho companies that hire illegal immigrants, the third to be introduced this legislative session.
The House State Affairs Committee voted Feb. 9 to give a full hearing to a bill that would punish employers who “knowingly” hire illegal immigrants with license suspensions. However, the measure would not include criminal penalties for employers or a controversial mandate to use a federal computer database known as E-Verify to check workers’ legal status.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who has worked on similar bills over the past two years, said his latest measure tries to simplify the process and eliminate the focus on E-Verify, which opponents say is not yet quick or reliable enough for companies to rely on. The proposal would encourage employers to use E-Verify by making it a defense in court.
“I hate to admit it,” Hart said. “The legislative process moves slowly, but I think we get a better result.”
Two other bills have already been introduced this session. One requires the mandatory use of E-Verify. The other provides criminal penalties against companies that knowingly hire workers who use false documents.
Hart’s bill does not include the contentious proposal to require that the Idaho state driving test be conducted solely in English without the help of a translator. That has drawn fire for potentially penalizing newly arrived legal immigrants, particularly refugees fleeing conflict-ridden countries.
Employers could be penalized with the suspension of state, county or city licenses for knowingly employing illegal aliens. Licenses could be suspended for up to 10 days for a second offense and up to a year for a third offense within a three-year period. The state attorney general’s office and county prosecuting attorneys would be authorized to investigate complaints.
Brent Olmstead, a lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, said his group opposes Hart’s latest bill.
The coalition, which represents dairy and agricultural interests, disapproves of license suspensions as penalties.
Olmstead noted that a small business that employs five or six illegal immigrants could not be penalized under the proposal if it doesn’t require any licenses to do business. However, a large dairy operation could be devastated with hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses from a license suspension of just a few days.
“That’s not a level playing field,” he said.
Asked if there was any bill that he could support, Olmstead said, “Sure. A federal bill. It’s a federal issue. It’s not a state issue.”