Mo. House panel rejects Senate immigration bill

Monday, May 12, 2008 | 8:38 p.m. CDT; updated 5:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A House committee rejected a Senate-approved immigration bill Monday while the governor’s office touted state troopers’ arrest of 250 illegal immigrants since last summer.

The Senate bill has been the main immigration measure, with provisions that would have initially required employers to verify immigration status and the Missouri State Highway Patrol to get special federal immigration training. Illegal immigrants also would be restricted from receiving public benefits and attending college.

The measure’s House sponsor said the vote to reject the Senate bill means that legislation sponsored by House members is now “the best chance” to pass any immigration legislation. But Sen. Scott Rupp disagreed. He said temporarily rejecting the bill is the quickest way to fix some problems in the legislation.

Rupp, R-Wentzville, said he still thinks at least some immigration legislation will pass — whether it is his wide-ranging bill or some of the multiple House bills that are sitting in the Senate. The House, throughout the session, has approved provisions similar to those in Rupp’s bill but has broken them into several different measures.

But the setback could prove costly. Lawmakers have only until Friday evening to pass legislation before their session ends. And the Senate bill must be approved through two House committees and the full House. If House members make any changes, House and Senate negotiators would need to work out differences.

At issue is what do with businesses that employ illegal immigrants. Bill critics argue that supporters have spent too much time adding new restrictions for illegal immigrants and not enough going after the businesses that give them jobs.

Both Rupp and House Immigration Committee Jerry Nolte said lawmakers need to include provisions targeting businesses that employ illegal immigrants.

“Employment is the largest magnet” for illegal immigration, said Nolte, R-Gladstone.

The Senate bill requires that all businesses use the federal E-Verify program to screen their employees’ work status if they are found employing an illegal immigrant. But the House stripped out provisions that penalized employers who classify those who work for them as contractors rather than employees. By doing that, employers don’t have to pay health insurance and can withhold taxes.

Rep. Mike Talboy, who recommended that the committee reject Rupp’s bill, said it is disingenuous for lawmakers to target illegal immigrants without also going after the companies that create an incentive to come into the country.

“If we’re going to make higher scrutiny for you the individual, we need to make sure the employers have the same scrutiny,” said Talboy, D-Kansas City.

The immigration bills also include a provision that would order the Highway Patrol to seek special federal training so that troopers are allowed to enforce federal immigration law.

Gov. Matt Blunt last year ordered the patrol to check the immigration status of those whom they arrest. From Aug. 27 through the end of last week, the patrol says it identified 250 illegal immigrants from the people it arrested.

The patrol also is sending 10 troopers next month to get special immigration training through the Department of Homeland Security. A patrol spokesman says the focus of that training will likely be designed to be more efficient when troopers find illegal immigrants on the roadways.

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