JEFFERSON CITY — Senators completed work on a broad bill targeting illegal immigrants Wednesday, but stopped just short of a vote because of questions about its cost and jockeying over an unrelated measure.
Sen. Jack Goodman was holding up a final Senate vote on the immigration legislation by stalling it in a committee that reviews the financial estimates of bills. Goodman twice delayed committee votes on the measure and joined in a Senate filibuster of other House-passed bills.
Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, said he is taking a particularly long look at House legislation. That’s because House leaders last year added a provision that allows property owners in unincorporated areas to petition to become their own village, and Goodman wants to undo that. A Senate-passed bill to reverse the 2007 law is pending in the House.
“I get to have my foot on the gas pedal or brake on this one,” Goodman said. The Senate committee is scheduled to meet again Wednesday evening, and Goodman said his “particularly detailed pace hopefully will be resolved within a day and allow pieces of legislation to move forward.”
The legislative session ends Friday.
Even if the immigration bill gets to a Senate vote, it has a provision that House and Senate sponsors said could prove troublesome. That provision is an amendment that creates penalties for businesses that misclassify their workers as “contractors” instead of employees and grants authority for the attorney general to investigate. Employers would face fines of $50 per worker per day for a maximum of $50,000.
Sen. Scott Rupp dropped his head onto his desk after his fellow senators yelled a resounding “yes” to approve the worker misclassification provisions by voice vote Tuesday.
Rupp, R-Wentzville, has pledged to plow ahead with the immigration legislation anyway, even though he called the misclassification provisions a “game-killing amendment” that is “radioactive” for House members.
“We will pick it up and put the ball back into their court,” he said.
The Senate started debating the immigration bill just after lunch Tuesday afternoon and continued for almost nine hours as Democrats lined up to offer more than a dozen amendments.
The overall bill would require people to prove they are a U.S. citizen or are legally in the country when applying for food stamps, housing and other public benefits; penalize businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants; bar Missouri cities from adopting sanctuary city policies; and order the Missouri State Highway Patrol to seek special federal immigration training.
House Immigration Chairman Jerry Nolte said the misclassification provision is a problem, and he is concerned about whether lawmakers will be able to pass any immigration legislation in a session that started with Gov. Matt Blunt and legislative leaders calling for laws cracking down on illegal immigration.
“Every hour means that we have less time,” said Nolte, R-Gladstone, who spent much of Tuesday evening watching from the Senate chamber.
Nolte and Rupp both said Blunt should call a special session if lawmakers adjourn without passing an immigration bill.
This most recent Senate immigration bill is the second time senators have considered a wide-sweeping bill that adds restrictions and requirements on illegal immigrants, employers and police.
And it closely mirrors a Senate-approved immigration bill that was rejected by a House committee earlier this week because of a similar worker misclassification amendment.
Nolte said he is troubled by the amount of power that provision would give to the attorney general and has doubts about whether the entire issue should be connected to the illegal immigration issue. His committee is expected to consider the initial Senate bill later Wednesday.