The two legislative leaders on both sides of the immigration debate in Utah are willing to sit down and talk.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, sat down to lunch on Friday to discuss possible ways to change Utah's comprehensive immigration law, which was created by House Bill 116.
"I'm open to discussion," Bramble said. "There is room for movement on all sides of the debate."
Bramble has already been working on revisions that he would like to make to the law. He's specifically dealing with clamping down on who can participate in the guest worker program that goes into effect in July 2013, should the federal government not give Utah the green light to run the program sooner. But Bramble and Sandstrom appear to also want to look at altering the e-verify provision in the law.
The law states that a business found not in compliance with the e-verify requirements would be fined $100 per illegal immigrant hired without permit on first violation, $500 per illegal worker on the second offense, and the third would result in the business having its license revoked. Sandstrom and Bramble plan to look into moving the business license revocation penalty up from third in the order of penalties issued to non-complying businesses. The fact that the two are talking has one side of the debate pleased.
"I think it is progress when Rep. Sandstrom is now thinking about perfecting 116 instead of repealing it," said Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a local conservative think-tank.
The talk of change isn't enough to appease some members of the Republican Party who would like to see the law repealed. Keri Witte, who led the charge of Republican state delegates to pass a resolution calling on lawmakers to repeal the law at the Republican state convention last month, says she is glad the legislators are talking about the bill, but she says they shouldn't be talking about changes to the law. She wants them to erase it and start over.
"Frankly it has dozens of serious flaws," Witte said. "I don't think it could be amended sufficiently. What needs to happen is the Legislature needs to repeal the law, start over and write a law that is fully constitutional."
An attempt to change the law to appease those in opposition of H.B. 116 could be a politically shrewd move by Bramble. One leader from the repeal H.B. 116 side observed that some within the Republican Party are upset enough at Bramble for the work he has done in advocating the law that they are ready to try to run against him in the 2012 election.
"Will there be efforts, grass-roots-wise, to remove him from office? I think that is a foregone conclusion," said Brandon Beckham, a GOP delegate.
Bramble says he will continue to work toward a more universal solution as the legislative process moves forward. He admits that the extremists on both sides of the issue probably won't be fully happy with the changes made in the future.