Topeka Kansas legislators who want to require police to check the legal status of suspected illegal immigrants failed Wednesday to dislodge a bill imposing the mandate from a House committee, where it's been tabled indefinitely.
The House voted 84-40 against pulling the bill from its Judiciary Committee.
The immigration bill has drawn strong opposition from some business groups and local governments, who view it as overly burdensome, and the push for it has been shadowed by one House member's recent remark — a joke, he said — that illegal immigrants should be shot like feral swine.
An attempt to pull a bill out of committee is unusual in the House, and Wednesday's vote was even more notable because Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, and Olathe Republican, supported it. Kinzer drafted the immigration bill with the help of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a law professor on leave who's advised lawmakers and city officials in other states about cracking down on illegal immigration.
The policing provision in the bill mirrors a law enacted in Arizona last year, which Kobach also helped draft. The Kansas bill also would require state agencies and contractors to make a good faith effort to check the legal status of new hires by using the federal E-Verify program, and it would impose new rules aimed at ensuring public services don't go to illegal immigrants.
Kinzer said he's not giving up on having a debate on his bill this year, but he acknowledged that the House vote makes it unlikely.
"That was a clear expression of a lack of desire to deal with the issue this year," Kinzer said. "It's an issue that I think needs to be debated. I think it's unfortunate that our opportunities to debate the bill in this session are going to be extremely limited."
Critics of the bill argued that its policing provision would lead to racial profiling, something Kinzer, Kobach and other supporters strongly dispute. The bill would require law enforcement officers to check the status of a person they stop for another reason, such as speeding, when officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal immigration. The measure specifically says the reason can't be race-based.
Kinzer said the measure ensures that existing immigration laws are enforced, but House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, contends the bill is too broad. He said legislators should concentrate on cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers to dry up the jobs attracting illegal immigrants.
"I'd like to see us have a more targeted approach," Davis said.
Some legislators also contend that supporters' cause was hurt by statements made by Rep. Virgil Peck, a Tyro Republican, earlier this month during a House Appropriations Committee discussion of a state plan to use gunmen in helicopters to shoot feral hogs. Peck suggested that if the plan worked, the state might have found a solution "to our illegal immigration problem."
Peck later issued a statement apologizing for a "regrettable joke," but it didn't stop calls for his resignation by Democratic legislative leaders and national groups.
Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City Democrat, said the furor surrounding Peck's remarks gave Kansas "a black eye" and led some House members to consider the broader ramifications of considering the immigration bill.
"This went around the world," he said. "We don't want to have that label to continue be put on the state of Kansas."
But Davis wasn't sure what role Peck's comments played, and Kinzer was skeptical. Peck declined to comment after the vote.
"All it does is stir up some issues that don't need to be stirred," he said.