Topeka Legislators agree that Kansas employers shouldn't hire illegal immigrants, but they disagree over how the state should punish violators, a House committee chairman said Monday.
The Federal and State Affairs Committee considered four bills dealing with illegal immigration. They dealt with hiring requirements, denying most public benefits to illegal immigrants, allowing local governments to ban them from renting houses and requiring local and state law enforcement officers to review the citizenship of people they stop for any violation.
Chairman Arlen Siegfreid said that in two weeks his committee will merge the four bills into one and send it to the House for debate. Dealing with illegal immigration is a priority for legislators this year as public pressure mounts for the state to do something because Congress has failed to act.
Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, said committee members disagree about what should be done to those who hire illegal immigrants.
"We need to get everybody to agree on the penalties for hiring illegals. That is where the big question will be," Siegfreid said. "The question will come down to sanctions or penalties for employers."
Committee members heard from supporters Monday and will hear today from opponents, including those who see the legislation as anti-Hispanic and business groups opposed to mandating the use of E-Verify. That federal database checks whether a person is legally allowed to work and has a valid Social Security number.
"When is it good public policy to reward illegal behavior?" asked Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican co-sponsoring one of the bills.
Attacking the problem may be easier said than done, said Rep. Louis Ruiz, a committee member.
"This is a touchy subject and there is no quick fix," the Kansas City Democrat said.
Terry Holdren of the Kansas Farm Bureau said his group and 35 other business groups, including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Livestock Association, oppose mandatory use of E-Verify. They also oppose penalties that put a business license in jeopardy and subject contractors to liability for the status of a subcontractor's workers.
"We are committed to providing a system that ensures that legitimate businesses are not subject to mandates or unnecessary penalties and look forward to working with you to achieve this objective," Holdren said.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, a co-sponsor along with Landwehr, said federal law limits what states can do to impose penalties on businesses and take action against licenses a company needs to operate.
"There is a dispute about what the penalties should be, but there's not a wide range of options on the nature of penalties," the Olathe Republican said.
Penalties in one bill include up to a 10-day suspension of business licenses for the first offense and permanent revocation for a second violation. Another bill calls for suspension for 10 to 30 days for the first offense, 90 days the second time and permanent revocation the third time.
Both require that, after Jan. 1, 2009, employers use E-Verify. But the measures give employers a defense if they hire someone cleared by E-Verify who is later found to be an illegal immigrant.