By Dan McFeely
Unless it gets a last-minute push, a proposed crackdown on illegal immigration appears headed for the legislative graveyard.
With four days remaining in the session, legislative leaders still have not scheduled a conference committee hearing to work out the differences between two versions of the bill, which passed the House and Senate by large margins.
Late this afternoon, the House of Representatives adjourned without appointing House conferees to join their Senate counterparts in a conference committee for Senate Bill 345. The legislation would punish employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants after 2009.
CLICK HERE for our 2008 legislative guide, where you can track a bill or read about who represents you in the Statehouse.
The Senate appointed its conferees Friday.
Today, a frustrated Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, and Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, released what they called compromise language designed to make the legislation more palatable to House and Senate leaders.
“There is no question that there is a battle going on in the hallways between the lobbying community who would like to kill this proposal and the voice of the people,” Delph said.
Voices in the debate: Hispanic Hoosiers talk about immigration
And in an appeal to the public, he added, “Now is the time for the people to stand up and act. If you want something done today on illegal immigration, then you need to contact your legislators and ask them to support the Delph-Tincher language.”
Business groups as well as immigrant advocates are opposed to the legislation.
Although two bills are alive that contain versions of Delph’s original illegal immigration bill, only one was likely to get any consideration, according to Tincher, who said Senate Bill 345 would be the vehicle to which he hopes to insert the compromise language.
But with the clock ticking and property tax reform devouring most of the attention of lawmakers, the chances of SB 345 getting a hearing seem to be slipping away.
Tincher, however, was still optimistic.
“I have talked to (House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend), and I have been assured that he is going to appoint conferees to SB 345 and hopefully we’ll be able to move along the language,” Tincher said.
Bauer, however, did not seem quite that committed.
“Eventually, I probably will, but we want to know some of the intent,” Bauer said. “My suggestion to (the Senate) would be to concur (on the House version). It’s a bill that does not have huge loopholes in it like the one sent over here.”
Asked whether he would concur on the House bill, Senate President Pro Tempore David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne, said, “I think there’s some questions about the funding,” referring to $1.5 million added for the attorney general and State Police.
“There’s a great deal of money poured into the bill which wasn’t discussed here in the Senate. There are legitimate concerns on both sides of the issue about what the proper language will be and who should ultimately be responsible for hiring an illegal immigrant.”
The new compromise language put together late last week by Delph and Tincher contains much of the spirit of the original bill, which would require the Indiana State Police to begin enforcing federal immigration laws.
In addition, the new language included many of the changes proposed by the House, including the funding element and the use of administrative law judges, rather than prosecutors and county courts, to administer justice with a final veto given to the governor.
Among other changes:
• It restores language that creates penalties for those who transport, conceal or harbor illegal immigrants for financial gain. That language had been taken out of the House version.
• Would punish companies after their third citation in seven years, a compromise between the five years approved by the Senate and the 10 years approved by the House.
• Requires the Hispanic/Latino Affairs Commission to report on the requirements that must be met to qualify for naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
After versions of the illegal immigration bill passed the Senate and House by large margins, many supporters believed — and opponents feared — that the bill was on its way to final passage.
Delph and Tincher said that many voters likely were duped into thinking that the issue had been resolved.
“That’s a question of creating the illusion with the public that we did something versus actually doing something,” Delph said. “And it is my hope that legislators work with us to take the ball across the goal line.”
In a hastily called midday news conference, Delph lashed out at those trying to stop the bill.
“There is a whole hallway of lobbyists who make lots of money who are trying to kill this bill,” Delph said. “I think the issue is the will of the people being put second fiddle to the will of the lobbying community.”
About 55,000 to 85,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Indiana, according to 2006 estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center.