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House and Senate to debate immigration bills next week

By CARL MANNING
hdnews.net

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- When the House and Senate debate illegal immigration next week, they will be tackling the topic from two points of view.

Both chambers started their annual session with legislation requiring employers to use the E-Verify federal database to verify workers were in the country legally. The measures would have imposed penalties, including loss of business licenses, for companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Their bills also required police to ask about a person's citizenship or immigration status when making an arrest.

But a coalition of business groups, including the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association, balked at the mandatory E-Verify and penalties, and both chambers responded by taking some of the toughness out of the legislation.

Dealing with illegal immigration has been high on the agenda of many legislators. They say they're responding to constituents' concerns about the increased number of illegal immigrants in Kansas, which some estimates put at 90,000.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee decided Wednesday to rewrite its bill to remove mandatory verification and the penalties, angering those supporting the original bill.

"We've got some senators who are not as well informed on the subject as they should be," Ed Hayes, state director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said after the hearing.

Working into Wednesday night, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee took a more middle-of-the-road approach.

It kept mandatory E-Verify, but didn't require it until July 1, 2010, when state labor officials will do the actual checking for employers.

It also mandated E-Verify for businesses convicted a second time of hiring illegal immigrants, and starting next year for businesses working under state contracts.

The House committee also kept the requirement for police to check people's citizenship status. But it changed the proposal to make it apply to those arrested rather than detained, such as during traffic stops.

"We were trying to strike a balance but we're not there yet," said House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. "There's a lot of passion on both sides."

Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt expects numerous amendments to rework his chamber's bill one way or the other.

"It's an unsettled issue. It's going to cause a lot of people to look at it at closer level of detail than before because of the Senate committee," said the Independence Republican. "I expect a lively debate on the Senate floor."

Some will want the legislation less stringent and others want it more like the original Senate bill. Some senators want it tougher -- but not as tough as the original bill. The reworked bill removed the requirement that police to make citizenship inquiries.

The Senate committee also made it a crime to use false identification to get a job, engage in human trafficking or coerce workers. The measure also creates an illegal immigrant enforcement unit within the attorney general's office.

Sen. Peggy Palmer, the lead sponsor of the original bill, said she's not giving up on trying to make the revised bill tougher.

"It needs to have something in it because now it has nothing," said the Augusta Republican. "Whatever it takes to stop the magnets that draw them here, that is what will be proposed."

But Sen. Phil Journey, another sponsor of the original bill, offered a more pragmatic view.

"Citizens are saying they want it all and they risk losing it all when they don't understand how the process works in this building," the Haysville Republican said.

Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, the House committee chairman, said he also expects efforts to rework his panel's bill from various viewpoints.

"You'll probably see virtually every amendment," said the Olathe Republican.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, the bill's sponsor, said the bill has enough safeguards for businesses, including mandating an absolute defense for those who hire an illegal immigrant even though E-Verify cleared the person.

"We have a bill that accommodates reasonable concerns business has and if weaken penalties, we can't say we have meaningful immigration reform," said the Olathe Republican.

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Senate immigration bill: Senate Sub for SB 458.

House immigration bill: House Sub for SB 329.

On the Net:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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