SALT LAKE CITY -- A bipartisan answer for the immigration situation in Utah was unveiled Wednesday at the State Capitol.
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, introduced Senate Bill 60, the Utah Pilot Accountability Permit Program. The bill is an alternative to the Arizona-style legislation that has been introduced by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem. Arizona passed a law last year aimed at finding, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants.
"It raises the bar of what we would expect of the undocumented immigrants in our community," Peterson said.
SB 60 would require undocumented immigrants over the age of 14 to register to receive an accountability card, which would need to be renewed every two years. The card would require fingerprints, photographs and criminal background checks on those applying, and 160 hours of English and civics classes paid for by those wishing to obtain the card. The card also would require holders to pay income taxes and prohibit the holders from receiving unemployment benefits or any social or public welfare benefits. The bill is supported by the conservative think-tank Sutherland Institute.
Peterson claims many Republicans are looking for an alternative to the Arizona-style legislation and that this is the answer.
"I represent a growing number of Republicans in the House that are looking for an alternative in the immigration debate," Peterson said. "There is a significant portion of the body that likes this idea."
The bill, while requiring much of the undocumented immigrants, will also require a lot from the companies that want to hire the permit holders. The law would require businesses to register with the state prior to hiring permit holders, impose fines that start at $10,000 per incident for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants, require that businesses demonstrate that they are making concerted efforts to hire citizens and lawful immigrants, and requires employers to withhold income tax from permit holder's wages.
Robles feels her bill is tougher than other proposed legislation.
"My bill has a stronger enforcement mechanism than Sandstrom's bill has," Robles said.
Robles blamed the federal government for not taking the lead on immigration reform sooner and said that she hopes that the bill will accelerate the federal government's process in finding an answer. Until then, she wants to make sure Utahns are being protected.
"We are not adjusting people's immigration status," Robles said. "Let us bring some order, some accountability, some system that will allow us to ensure that public safety can make sure we know who these people are, and where they live, and that they pay taxes."
The bill looks to be the first step in the long process of the Legislature crafting an immigration bill. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is leading up an omnibus immigration bill that might include portions of this bill in it. The sponsors of SB 60 feel this bill will do enough.
"We think our bill is comprehensive enough in that it addresses public safety, individual and employment accountability, and a reality in what can be done with the individuals who are here undocumented," Robles said.
When asked if she would support an omnibus bill that includes many different immigration bills that are being introduced, Robles stated she could not support any bill with Arizona-style legislation, but that she does plan to have a seat at the table in crafting the final legislation.
"We're going to be participating with those discussions," Robles said.