Basin lawmaker wants immigration law repealed
State Rep. Christine Johnson hopes budget constraints force state lawmakers to repeal a sweeping immigration law that will require police and deputies detain illegal immigrants when it takes effect in July.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m hoping to get an all-out repeal of [Senate Bill] 81," said Johnson, a Salt Lake City Democrat who represents the Snyderville Basin on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
SB 81 may require government employers register to use a system that verifies the work status of new employees. The law also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of people who apply for state or local benefits. SB 81 requires local law enforcement to begin aggressively enforcing immigration laws by detaining people living in their communities illegally.
"[SB 81] has a considerable fiscal note and we don’t have any evidence to indicate that it’s worth the state’s monetary investment to pursue such a bigoted policy," Johnson said. "This is a matter for federal government to handle and not states."
Lawmakers have already considered across-the-board budget cuts of 15 percent, Johnson said, adding that about seven percent could be cut from the remaining budget this year.
"[SB 81] will cost the state money and increase unemployment," Johnson said. "There is a movement afoot to see the repeal and I’ve been hearing from constituents in Summit County and Salt Lake County that that is their desired end result."
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have considered filing lawsuits against the state should lawmakers not repeal the new law, Latino activist Tony Yapias said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
"We can’t afford it and there are only a few lawmakers who want to pursue this issue," Yapias said. "This is an issue that can only be done at the federal level."
The state budget could dominate the discussion this year at the Legislature’s 45-day session which began Monday. But Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is against the deep cuts legislative leaders have proposed so far.
"The governor’s approach is more fair, balanced and clearly in the best interest of Utahns. [But] conservative members of both parties have made it very clear that they are going to continue on their conservative agenda," said Johnson, who is against slashing budgets for education and health care. "I think it’s going to take us a little bit of time to help them understand that that is just antiquated thinking."
Trimming the budget requires "a scalpel and not an ax," she explained.
"I strongly believe we need to diversify revenue for compensation of budget shortfalls," Johnson said. "That means bonding for transportation and partial use of rainy day funds."
Abortion: Criminal homicide?
Legislation that could make some doctors who perform abortions in Utah, murderers, could cost the state lots in court costs to defend, abortion activists say.
"It’s not constitutional and our hope is that it wouldn’t pass at all, but certainly not in its current form," said Melissa Bird, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. "The bill is too narrow to be constitutional."
House Bill 90 would allow abortions be performed in Utah only when the operation is necessary to save the mother’s life or deter serious injuries, or if the child has a medical condition and is not expected to survive more than 24 hours outside the womb.
"It’s fair to say that these are short-sighted policies and will only result in diminished health care for women statewide," Johnson said.
Finally, Johnson said House Bill 267, which she is sponsoring, would provide protection to gays and transgender people from discrimination by employers and would not cost any money to implement.
"As recent polling indicates, most Utahns are in favor of adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination policy," she said.
Johnson, who is openly gay, said she sponsored a similar bill in 2008. She admits pushing the legislation through Utah’s conservative Legislature is difficult.
"Bills that will see success are those with small or limited fiscal impacts," Johnson said. "I expect [HB 267] to progress even further this session."
Anita Lewis, Brent Ovard and Travis English were influential in shaping how residents interact with the county.