08 June 2006

Committee action, Jun. 8: SB 753

SB 753 would authorize the state attorney general or local district attorney to issue a cease and desist order after discovering an employer has hired undocumented aliens. This would create procedure to enforce existing federal law. Rep. Don Cravins, presenting his father’s bill to the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, pointed out there would have to be two unknowing violations with no corrective action taken within 10 days, which should not a big burden on employers. He said this legislation followed other states’ and introduced penalties previously absent.

Rep. Steve Scalise pointed out that the bill didn’t provide sanctions against the illegal workers themselves, nor did it provide money or incentives for the state to follow this law. Cravins said the state needed to pursue this as a first step in order to protect those workers, American workers, and legitimate employers.

Sen. Don Cravins appeared, arguing that this bill should not slow down recovery efforts, which Scalise had said might happen given the chilling effect employers doing hurricane reconstruction might feel with passage of the bill. He said it would be a disincentive to illegal immigration.

Rep. Juan LaFonta agreed with Scalise that “knowingly” needed stronger definition to protect honest employers, and offered an amendment to do so. But Rep. Shirley Bowler said LaFonta’s definition might actually achieve the opposite, given her reading of federal law. Supporters argued that the bill’s penalty would kick in only if the order was not followed, not for the actions of the employer, so federal law wouldn’t apply. Bowler then said a definition of “knowingly” then wasn’t necessary. It was put to a vote, and the amendment was defeated 6-4 along racial lines of those present.

Rep. Ronnie Johns also expressed reservations that honest employers could get caught up on the wrong side of the law, and that it allowed government potentially too much discretion in applying the law. Sen. Cravins said the “knowingly” part would be applied only after the issuance of the order, not applied to the original hiring decision, and thought it provided sufficient protection against arbitrary enforcement.

Scalise offered an amendment to shift the burden from employer to illegal employees, deleting employer penalties and requiring officials to inform the federal government to institute deporting actions. LaFonta said it was the employer’s fault, that they “lured” illegal workers here and this harkened back to the same logic that slaveowners used saying they should not be punished. Scalise said the metaphor was inappropriate because illegal aliens came here by choice and thus needed punishment. Cravins said officials had an obligation to report it anyway, and said maybe that could be added to the bill but not removing the penalties. He said it was tantamount to saying the government should allow the flouting of the law. The amendment failed 6-5 on a party-line vote with all Democrats in favor.

Opponents argued the bill was overbroad, which could lead to prosecution of anybody, and didn’t add anything in terms of prosecution to existing law. Given the intrusiveness of the investigation process, it created an enormous burden on employers for even honest, innocent employers, and the bill would encourage more of this for even frivolous reasons. The law would encourage reporting by state and local officials just to stay on the safe side of the law’s requirements, and given their lack of resources they would not conduct an adequate investigation, presuming the need for federal investigation and the launching of an intrusive process for little or no reason.

Rep. Tank Powell pointed out that the law would require costs of time and supplies with implementation of the law for businesses of any size. Further, businesses report each other frivolously to try to harass their competition which this law would encourage, opponents said.

Bowler offered amendments to prevent what she said were two layers of penalties, one at the federal and state level, and to prevent mail fraud charges from being filed as a result of filings concerning the investigations. Sen. Cravins didn’t see the need for the amendment. It failed 7-4, again on party lines with republicans in the minority.

The bill passed 7-4, mostly along party lines.

It’s scary … we’re definitely making strides in this committee.
LaFonta, noting he and Scalise might actually agree on a bill.

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