Republican leaders in Tennessee appear to be dialing down the heat on illegal immigration, reports Chas Sisk, but activists still worry that the volatile issue could bubble up in an election year.
Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature have said they plan to focus on only one immigration bill — a measure that would require state agencies to check immigration documents — and they are backing away from more controversial proposals, such as police checks and a ban on giving a ride to non-citizens who can’t prove their right to be in the country.
They’ve also moved toward limiting the scope of the one bill they do support.
Advocates for immigrant groups say they believe the moves signal that Republican leaders want to avoid having immigration overshadow their efforts on jobs and education, issues that Tennesseans say weigh heaviest on their minds. But advocates also express doubts about whether the GOP’s rank-and-file will agree to mute the issue or press ahead on a matter that still has the potential to energize conservative voters.
…Nearly 30 bills that deal with immigration had been filed in the legislature as of Friday, but most were holdovers from last year that received only cursory attention. Republican leaders say they have intentionally taken a go-slow approach to illegal immigration, one that avoids triggering legal and political disputes such as those that have followed immigration bills passed recently in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.
“We’ve taken a more strategic approach — in a particular bill identifying a problem and finding a solution to that problem,” said state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, the GOP’s point man on immigration in the House. “That’s part of the reason we’re being successful about upholding the Constitution.”
…One new bill that is attracting some attention, House Bill 2191, would make it a felony to harbor or transport anyone that a person “knows or reasonably should know is an illegal alien.” State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, are sponsoring the measure, which is scheduled to have its first hearing in a House subcommittee on Wednesday.
Immigrant groups say the measure is meant to create a climate of suspicion. Many churches also are preparing to oppose the measure, which they say would open them to prosecution for missions as common as shuttling immigrant children to vacation Bible schools or allowing homeless immigrants to stay in church buildings during winter.
Note: There’s also a sidebar on the law approved last session requiring large employers to check the federal “E-Verify” system – or look at a driver’s license – for a prospective employee’s immigration status.
Several Middle Tennessee companies falling under the law, which some skeptics say was so watered down in the legislative debate that it has no real teeth, say it has caused few headaches in practice.
“This is nothing new to us,” Tractor Supply Co. spokesman Randy Guiler said. “There were other states we’re in that already required E-Verify, so we already had procedures in place. All we had to do was implement them in Tennessee.”
But some worry the law could have deeper consequences as it gets applied to smaller businesses. Those with 200 to 499 employees must meet the new requirements by July 1, while businesses with six to 249 employees have a year after that to comply.
Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are bragging on their accomplishments in immigration reform — especially about a unique approach to the E-Verify hiring system — but what could be ripe for debate is the list of immigration bills they’re ready to push next year.
More from Mike Morrow’s TNReport:
Lawmakers say they intend to pursue legislation beginning in January on immigration enforcement at the state level (SB0780), denying state taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens (HB1379), an English-only driver’s license process (SB0010) and, in what may be a highly volatile issue, an effort (HB0751) to seek clarification on whether a child born here to illegal aliens should be considered a citizen, as has generally been the practice.
Legislators are trumpeting their accomplishments in this year’s session not only on the successful E-Verify plan and the material support bill to fight “homegrown terrorism” but a lesser-known bill meant to address issues related to legal refugees who come into the state.
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has issued a detailed report on the Legislature’s efforts on immigration this year, including continued warnings about each of the bills that didn’t pass. (Note: Link HERE.) The group claims success in holding the line on “Arizona copycat legislation,” but it remains aware of states’ individual efforts at enacting immigration reforms.
…Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, one of the most adamant proponents of immigration legislation in the state, has said he will try to get an enforcement bill passed next year.
“We waited to see what Georgia was doing, what Alabama was doing, and we’re going to tweak our bill,” Ketron said. “We’re going to come back with a vengeance, and thank goodness the Supreme Court ruled the way they did just a few weeks ago on that issue.
The high court dealt strictly with an employment issue, upholding Arizona’s law penalizing businesses that hire illegal immigrants, lending strength to states that want to use the federal E-Verify identity system. There is debate, however, as to how far the court might go in other areas of enforcement, such as checking papers. The court ruling, nevertheless, was a sign that states may be allowed to act on immigration enforcement where the federal government has not acted.
“We’re going to bring that bill hot and heavy,” Ketron said. “It’s going to be the best bill passed so far.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that seeks to make sure Tennessee employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
The measure is a weaker version of its original, which mandated all employers use the federal E-Verify program to prove their employees are legally in the country.
The proposal the Republican governor signed into law on Tuesday (HB1378) exempts employers with five or fewer employees and allows them to keep a copy of the new hire’s driver’s license instead of using E-Verify.
Supporters say the legislation is needed to crack down on illegal immigration, while opponents say it could cost businesses time and money.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 20, 2011 — The full Senate has approved and sent to the governor legislation calling for Tennessee employers to use the “E-Verify” system to help ensure that new hires are in the state legally.
The legislation calls for businesses with over five employees to obtain a copy of his or her driver’s license or utilize the E-Verify system. The bill provides a safe harbor for employers who use E-Verify if the worker is later found to be in the country illegally due to its accuracy in detecting illegal aliens.
Legislation mandating that employers use the federal “E-Verify” system to check whether their new employees are illegal immigrants was amended Thursday to exclude employees that can present a valid drivers license.
The revision, adopted by the Senate Finance Committee late in the day, prompted business lobbyists who had opposed the bill as imposing unwarranted expenses and risk of penalties promptly dropped their objections. The move appeared to assure the measure, SB1699, will pass.
“We think that is a very, very reasonable approach,” said Bradley Jackson, lobbyist for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
A proposed Tennessee version of Arizona’s controversial law on illegal immigration was shelved for the year on Tuesday while another bill attempting to curb employment of illegal immigrants has received a boost from Gov. Bill Haslam.
The sponsors of the “Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act,” HB1380, Tuesday had any further action on the measure postponed until 2012.
Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said the estimated $3 million cost of implementing the bill was a major factor in the decision to delay. The sponsors also said they expect to renew their effort next year, likely after some modifications.
“It’s an opportunity to keep it alive,” said Ketron.
Legislation requiring employers to check citizenship of job hires using the federal E-Verify system is likely to pass during this session, state Rep. Joe Carr said Friday.
More from the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal story:
The E-Verify bill, which now has an estimated cost of $91,000 annually, will be funded in next year’s budget, Carr, a Lascassas Republican, said during the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce Capitol Connection breakfast Friday morning.
“The governor’s got it in the budget, and we anticipate it passing the Senate and the House,” Carr said Friday.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office confirmed Friday that funding for the E-Verify bill is in the budget.
The initial fiscal note required expenditures of $320,000, but that amount was cut dramatically by reducing the number of people to two who would need to be hired to help the state with the E-Verify program.
(Note: From the article, it appears Carr made no prediction of success for his two other bills dealing with illegal immigration — once on stepped-up law enforcement efforts that was inspired by an Arizona law and the other on denying benefits to illegal immigrants. On E-Verify, recall that Carr once had some unkind words (later retracted) about Haslam’s opposition to the measure.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Opponents of a proposal that would allow law enforcement agents in Tennessee to question suspects about their immigration status are concerned it will hurt the state’s image.
The measure was one of three immigration bills sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas that passed the House State and Local Government Committee on a voice vote Tuesday.
The other bills would require the state’s employers to prove their employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S., and require agencies to verify that applicants for public benefits are legally eligible for them.
Critics compare the law enforcement bill to the one in Arizona that passed last year and is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Carr said the proposal is different from the Arizona legislation in that local law enforcement officials wouldn’t be able to make an arrest if an individual couldn’t provide legal documents.
Under his bill, if there was reasonable suspicion, authorities would call an immigration enforcement hot line to find out if the person was legally in the country.
However, opponents of the proposal say it could hurt tourism in the state and cause racial profiling.
“I’m afraid … we’re putting it out there that we’re following Arizona’s lead,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. “I’m afraid we’re going to have some overzealous officers. I do not want to give tools to someone who would do that.”
Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis agreed.
“I think this bill is going to create an atmosphere in Tennessee that we don’t want,” he said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg has said that her group will pursue litigation if the enforcement bill becomes law.
She told the committee the state should not be dealing with immigration, “but the federal government should.”
Her statement seemed to agitate committee chairman Curry Todd, who said the federal government is irresponsible when it comes to the issue.
“We wouldn’t be here if the federal government would do their job; Obama and the rest of them up there,” said the Collierville Republican. “That’s why the states are getting involved in it.”
According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, states passed 346 immigration-related laws and resolutions last year — a record number. Six states introduced bills similar to Arizona’s, but none of them were enacted. So far this year, 11 states have introduced Arizona-style bills.
State Rep. Joe Carr said Monday that opposition from Gov. Bill Haslam to E-Verify legislation designed to stop companies from hiring illegal immigrants “defies logic,” reports the Daily News Journal.
Carr’s bill, one of three he’s pushing this session on illegal immigration, would replace existing law that prohibits any person from knowingly hiring an illegal alien by requiring employers to enroll and maintain active participation in the E-Verify program by Oct. 1, 2011.
….The Tennessee Lawful Employment Act and two others setting up stronger local enforcement of federal immigration laws and prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving government entitlements were to be heard today in the House State & Local Government Committee. But Carr said he doesn’t expect them to be considered.
“I had a meeting with the governor and several others last week and the governor expressed serious concerns with requirements in the E-Verify bill,” Carr said.
On illegal immigration, see also TNReport on disputes over how much the proposed legislation targeting illegal immigrants would cost the state.
A bill requiring Tennessee employers to use the federal “E-Verify” system continues to advance over objections from many business lobbyists.
The measure, SB1669, cleared its first House committee last week and was approved 8-1 by the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. The measure requires employers to sign up for the E-Verify system, which is voluntary under federal law, if they hire anyone after Jan. 1, 2012.
The Senate panel did amend the measure to grant the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, who is charged with enforcing the proposed new law, discretion to reduce penalties that are mandatory as drafted. The basic penalties are $1,000 on first offense; $2,500 on second offense; and $5,000 on third and subsequent offenses.
Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, proposed the amendment as needed as the requirement is put into effect to avoid unfairly penalizing employers who simply make a mistake.
Lobbyists for several business interests and the Tennessee Farm Bureau spoke against the measure, saying it will be difficult for some businesses and farmers to comply with the requirement – especially those without computers – and costly in some cases.
“What this is going to do is make those law-abiding businesses have to comply with another costly government mandate,” said Dan Haskell, lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association.