Immigration bill still in limbo |

Immigration bill still in limbo

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

State lawmakers discussed a watered-down immigration reform bill this week after a lengthy debate spanning two days on the Senate floor.

Sparring that is expected to resume Monday over Senate Bill 81, sponsored by Sen. John W. Hickman, R-St. George began Thursday after aspects of the bill were reworked to make it more palatable for business and religious leaders.

SB 81 could require county deputies make a reasonable effort to determine the immigration status of suspects inside jails. Final passage of the bill may also mean the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission could not issue liquor licenses to illegal immigrants.

Additionally, an earlier version of the bill would have required landlords carefully verify potential tenants are in the United State legally before renting to them.

Provisions that were controversial, including denying in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and revoking their driving privilege cards, were removed from the substitute version of the bill Hickman filed Friday afternoon.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal Republican who represents Park City, said he initially opposed the bill because it would have exposed landlords who unknowingly rent to illegal immigrants to legal liability.

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"The way the bill was written, I believe it exposed those people who are renting property. It was just too broad," said Van Tassell, who is now expected to support SB 81.

The legislation is based on an immigration law in Oklahoma considered one of the strictest in the nation.

"As I’m working here, everyone has concerns, and we have some issues that have got to be addressed," Van Tassell said in a telephone interview Friday from Capitol Hill. "I want to make sure that what we do is judicious and shows some respect."

SB 81 could require public employers register to use a system that verifies the work status of new employees. The bill also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of someone who applies for state or local benefits.

Local law enforcement officers may also begin enforcing federal immigration statutes under SB 81.

The bill could make knowingly transporting or concealing an illegal immigrant "for commercial advantage or private financial gain" illegal.

Sen. Allen Christensen, a North Ogden Republican who represents most of eastern Summit County, supported the bill in a preliminary vote Thursday.

During the session, senators are also poised to debate two bills the House passed that would revoke driving privilege cards from illegal immigrants and deny them in-state tuition costs to attend Utah universities.

Van Tassell said he will oppose efforts to eliminate the driving cards.

"I think we’ll see some tightening of that, which I’m in favor of," he said, adding that more immigrants have purchased car insurance since the cards were enacted. "It’s doing what it should do and if we revoke those, I’m not sure I want to put 30,000 people out there with no insurance."

Van Tassell has not decided whether to vote to deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who attend at least three years of high school in Utah and graduate.

"I want to try to keep that, I’m just trying to figure out how to do that," Van Tassell said.

Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, and Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, opposed the legislation that would do away with the tuition breaks and driving privilege cards.