Immigration issue isn’t going away, legislators say

? Legislators failed to pass any immigration bill this year, but it’s an issue that’s not going away anytime soon.

The House and Senate each passed a bill viewed as a weakened version of what was introduced in each chamber. Negotiators reached agreement on a compromise but couldn’t sell it to the House, and the Legislature adjourned Wednesday night with no bill.

But the top two legislative leaders said Thursday it’s an issue that will keep coming back until Congress passes immigration reform.

The Legislature has a history of taking several years to deal with controversial and complex issues such as abortion, gambling, health care and school finance.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, who put immigration on his chamber’s priority list, sees it as one of those long-term issues.

“I’m sure we’ll be taking another bite at the apple next year, just like we will with education, which we do every year,” said the Ingalls Republican.

Likewise, Senate President Steve Morris said the issue likely will return absent any federal legislation. But he doesn’t think dealing with immigration on the state level is the best approach.

“If we end up with 50 different laws in the 50 states, it’s going to make it pretty tough for businesses and others to operate here,” said the Hugoton Republican. “That’s a federal responsibility, and they’re going to have to bite the bullet and take care of it.”

Businesses oppose bills

When the two chambers introduced their immigration bills this year, supporters praised their toughness. They said Kansans wanted the Legislature to do something to curb the number of illegal immigrants in the state – estimated at some 90,000.

Legislators pushing for stronger laws were frustrated by the opposition they confronted, especially from a business coalition that included the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Farm Bureau.

That frustration was one reason Sen. Peggy Palmer, whose immigration bill was scrapped in committee, changed her mind about seeking re-election. She dropped out after the Senate soundly rejected her proposal.

“I think power and money and control of the legislators was the reason I decided it was time to retire,” said the Augusta Republican. “I have never seen big business be so controlling of legislation as it was with the immigration bill. That was a great disappointment.”

The House reworked its version so much that sponsoring Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, disowned it and urged colleagues to vote against it.

E-Verify requirement

Business groups opposed requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify database to check on the status of workers being hired. They also fought sanctions against employers hiring illegal immigrants, including the loss of business licenses.

They complained that it would create a hardship on employers and turn them into immigration police. E-Verify and license revocations were not in the compromise.

The compromise made hiring illegal immigrants a civil offense for businesses. Courts could order employers to stop hiring illegal workers and the employer could be fined or jailed for contempt of court for not complying.

The House version included criminal penalties for businesses that illegally treat any worker as an independent subcontractor, known as misclassification.

Negotiators removed that, and supporters of misclassification banded together to twice defeat a procedural move that would have allowed a vote in the House.

The Senate, which controlled the negotiating committee, wouldn’t consider misclassification, so the bill languished until the session’s end.

The compromise created crimes such as coercing employees, holding a person in involuntary servitude to satisfy a debt, human trafficking, dealing in false identification documents and employment identity fraud.