BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers could debate as many as three bills this session that would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Two bills, including one introduced Friday by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, would punish employers who knowingly hire illegal workers with fines and suspension of licenses. A third, milder measure makes knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant a misdemeanor but doesn't touch their licenses.
Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, has introduced similar versions of his legislation the last three sessions, but they failed. He insists tackling the issue will pay off by discouraging illegal workers so much that they stay away.
"It creates enforcement by attrition," Jorgenson told the Senate State Affairs Committee. "When people know we have this kind of structure in place, they leave the state or they don't come."
Jorgenson's measure would require employers after Jan. 1, 2011, to confirm a worker's eligibility through the federal "E-Verify" system. Violators would face fines of up to $50 a day per worker, up to $50,000. His bill goes even further: Written driver's license tests would be given in English only — no interpreters allowed.
On Friday, the Senate panel agreed to consider his bill at a full hearing, along with others that might come across their desks. Still, some members were at least initially skeptical.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, raised concerns that Jorgenson's bill could burn up law enforcement agencies' resources. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, fears far-reaching consequences for legal immigrants who would face additional hurdles to mundane tasks like driving a car.
"We have huge concerns about this," Kelly said.
Separately, Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, are also working on legislation. Details weren't available and it hasn't been introduced, but Labrador said it would discourage employers from hiring illegal aliens, including by revoking an offending business's license for up to one year.
"People will be more careful when hiring," said Labrador, an immigration lawyer running for Congress.
A third alternative would tighten existing laws governing employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Owners of companies who knowingly do so could face misdemeanor charges, be fined up to $50,000 and be jailed for two years but wouldn't be stripped of licenses under the measure sponsored by Sens. John McGee, R-Caldwell, and Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, who chairs the State Affairs Committee.
A pro-business group that includes dairy and construction interests doesn't like any of the bills, but concedes McGee's bill would likely put the least burden on employers who often rely on immigrant laborers.
Revoking a business license would be bad for Idaho's already lagging recovery, said Brent Olmstead, a lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform. Its members like the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry are pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms that include secure borders, but also increased quotas for guest workers.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Community Action Network, which represents migrant-worker interests, contends that only federal legislation can solve the problem. Leo Morales, a community organizer, said none of the Idaho measures address his group's concern that employers have inadequate training to determine just who has a fake ID or Social Security number.
"Employers are not immigration officials," Morales said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.