By Dan McFeely
February 12, 2008
A state Senate bill cracking down on illegal immigration will begin its journey through the Indiana House on Wednesday -- but not without some changes.
Senate Bill 335 will be amended to include $1.5 million in appropriations for the attorney general and State Police to pay for preparation costs and added enforcement duties mandated under the proposed law.
Whether the bill would get heard in the House was in question after Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said it would have to be better balanced in protecting good-faith businesses while punishing those profiteering from the low wages paid to illegal immigrants.
Amendments to that effect could be filed this week.
The bill will be heard Wednesday by the Public Policy Committee. The funding component means it also will be heard by the Ways and Means Committee, probably next week.
Approved by the Senate last month, the bill would have to be approved by both committees in order to be heard by the full House.
"I am confident we will move it through the committee process and the full House will have the opportunity to vote up or down on the bill," said Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, the House sponsor.
But will it be weakened?
"No. I think we may strengthen it a bit," Tincher said.
The controversial bill has drawn opposition from Hispanic activists, civil libertarians and big business, who say it has racist undertones and will have a negative impact on the state's economy.
But there is also strong grass-roots support from Hoosiers who are frustrated that the federal government has not done more to fix the nation's immigration problem -- a problem they say costs taxpayers millions in health care, education and other expenses for undocumented workers.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has remained neutral, though he has said that Indiana needs to "move carefully here and make sure you don't do injury to the economy or to law-abiding people."
SB 335 would penalize employers for hiring illegal immigrants, make it illegal to harbor an illegal immigrant (with some exceptions for health-care providers, religious organizations and family members) and require the Indiana State Police to begin working with federal authorities to develop a process by which local police can be trained to enforce federal immigration laws.
Under the funding amendment, the State Police would get a one-time $1 million appropriation to prepare for their task of working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. And the attorney general, which would be asked to investigate violations of the new law, would get $500,000.
"I think this is a positive step in the right direction," said state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who authored the bill and has been championing its cause for several weeks.
Delph will testify at the hearing Wednesday, along with Lt. Col. Ray Mejia, an Army reservist who, along with Delph, is facing sanctions from the military for wearing his uniform at a news conference last week. Both are assigned to the same Army Reserve unit.
Delph said Mejia "will be in a business suit" Wednesday.