By Jennifer W. Sanchez
The Salt Lake Tribune
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is expected to sign a comprehensive immigration bill if no more major changes are made to it.
After making amendments to the proposal, the House approved the bill in a veto-proof 56-15 vote on Monday. Only three Democrats - Reps. Janice Fisher, Karen Morgan and LaWanna Shurtliff - out of 20 in the House supported the measure.
SB81 would allow police officers to enforce immigration law and force some employers to verify that their workers can legally work in the United States. It now returns to the Senate - where it passed by a veto-proof margin last week - for approval of the House amendments.
Lisa Roskelley, a spokeswoman for Huntsman, said the governor thinks SB81 can be a "helpful" piece of legislation, especially since it would not go into effect until July 2009.
"This could be a good step forward and give the federal government time to address this important national issue," she said Monday evening.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, told lawmakers during Monday's debate that the bill has nothing to do with racism or prejudices against people. He said it's about respecting the rule of law and welcoming only those who come to Utah legally.
"The time is right, and it's time we pass an illegal immigration law in Utah," he said. "We have strong public support to pass this bill."
SB81 sponsor Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said he was aware and content with most of the clarifying amendments made by the House. He said he was surprised by the amendment to make trade unions verify their members' documentation status, but he's not concerned about it for now and plans to work it out later.
Hickman said he expects the Senate will approve SB81 in a quick vote this morning.
"I'm going to make a motion to concur, and this baby is done," he said.
A coalition of religious leaders and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce support SB81.
Other anti-illegal immigration groups were pleased with the bill, saying it was better than nothing.
Bill opponents said they are concerned about racial profiling and that the proposed law will make victims fearful of reporting crimes.
Also on Monday, the Senate approved a bill that would put stronger restrictions on the driving privilege card for mostly undocumented immigrants.
HB171 would prohibit people who sell alcoholic beverages from accepting the driving card as evidence of a person's age and firearms dealers from accepting the driving card as a form of identification. It would also require the Driver License Division to suspend a driving card if a person's vehicle registration is revoked.
An estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants live in Utah.