Topeka Republicans on Thursday sent to the full House a measure that supporters said would prohibit illegal immigrants from getting state benefits, including in-state tuition.
Democrats criticized the measure, saying it was unnecessary because there were no documented cases of illegal immigrants abusing state benefits, and that the bill would produce paperwork hassles resulting in eligible Kansans having to wait for or not get needed services.
"What we have here is a bill that fixes nothing," said state Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka.
But the bill's author, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said he had heard of anecdotal evidence of illegal immigrants receiving state benefits.
House Bill 2367 would require people applying for assistance, such as Medicaid or food stamps, to have documentation that proves they are a U.S. citizen.
"When someone comes in seeking a benefit, you have to have documentation to prove you're entitled to the benefit," Kinzer said.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed the measure, 11-9. Those in support were all Republicans; eight Democrats and one Republican voted against it.
The measure also would get rid of the law that allows the children of some illegal immigrants to pay the less expensive in-state tuition to attend college.
Under that law, the students have to have attended public schools in Kansas for three years and graduated or gained a General Education Development certificate. They also must sign an affidavit pledging to become U.S. citizens once they are eligible.
State figures show that 169 students received in-state tuition under this law in 2006. Since the law was established in 2004, there have been several attempts to repeal it, but all have failed.
On Thursday, Republicans on the committee defeated several attempts by Democrats to increase punishment and fines against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Committee Chairman Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, added language to the bill that mirrors federal law by requiring employers to verify a worker's documentation to prove citizenship.
But Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said the requirement was superficial.
"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who wants to hire illegal aliens," he said.
Democrats said they feared that children or crime victims may be denied emergency services under the bill. But Kinzer said there were provisions in the bill to take care of those situations.
He also said there were safeguards in place that allowed people who couldn't immediately provide proof of citizenship to still get needed services.