[r44] Property Taxes First Priority, but Immigration Getting Attention (2/14/2008)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Start Date: 2/14/2008 All Day
End Date: 2/14/2008

During the first half of session, property taxes dominated all other issues. Currently, the House version of the property tax plan, House Bill 1001, is being considered by the Senate's Committee on State Tax and Fiscal Policy. The Senate's version of the property tax plan is broken into several bills, all of which are being heard, debated and amended in the House Ways and Means Committee.

While these bills are in committee, we have the opportunity to concentrate on other issues of concern to Hoosiers across the state. Outside of property taxes, immigration and undocumented immigrant workers are the talk of the Indiana General Assembly.

Consider the results of my legislative survey: In response to a question asking, "Do you support a state law that would fine employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants?" about 90 percent of respondents said, "Yes."

State Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel) authored Senate Bill 335 in an attempt to address this complex and controversial issue. As it stands, the bill would create penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. To determine whether or not a new hire is legal and eligible for employment, employers would be required to use E-verify, an Internet-based system managed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

If the employer determines there are existing employees who are undocumented immigrants, he must fire those employees immediately. The bill would create something akin to a three-strikes-you're-out policy toward businesses that hire and retain illegal immigrants. There will be penalties for each violation, and if an employer receives three violations in a 10-year period, the court may permanently revoke that employer's license to do business within Indiana. The bill also includes enhanced penalties for people who assist unauthorized immigrants.

SB 335 passed the Senate at third reading by a 37-11 vote. Currently, the bill is in the House Public Policy Committee. On Wednesday, the committee heard testimony for and in opposition to the bill. It immediately became clear that many have strong opinions about the bill and the issue of illegal immigration. A great number of people like you would like to see consequences for businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. However, an equal number of groups and individuals had questions about the consequences and details of the bill.

Traditionally, illegal immigration is an issue meant to be legislated and enforced at the federal level. Unfortunately, existing federal laws are not being enforced with any sort of regularity or consistency. There are too few federal agents in Indiana to confront adequately the magnitude of our current problems with illegal immigration. In this light, a state law that would empower our state law enforcement agencies to uphold these federal laws may be advantageous.

Still, what we don't need is another immigration law that is not enforced, because then all we have is a law to make Hoosiers feel better about the problem for a short time and to make politicians in Indianapolis look better to voters in their district.  This is the argument of many in opposition to the bill who feel we should leave the issue to the federal government.

What's more, Indiana businesses are not in favor of the bill. They are worried about the penalties they view as too harsh, and they are worried about losing a large part of their work force that will not be easy to replace.

I understand the worries of Indiana businesses, but I also understand that Indiana has attracted a large number of illegal immigrants because they are enticed by the economic opportunities available to them here. If current laws regarding illegal immigration were enforced, Indiana would be a less attractive state for undocumented immigrant workers because they wouldn't be hired in our businesses.  

Personally, I have not yet come to an absolute conclusion about this bill. Before the bill reaches the House floor, I sincerely hope the details are thoroughly discussed and potential loopholes and weaknesses addressed. I am more likely to support the bill if I feel it is clear and strong enough to be enforced. This is a complex issue that I will continue to study and consider in the weeks ahead.

I invite you to contact me with your thoughts and ideas on this and other issues. As always, your input guides my thinking and decision making as I strive to represent you accurately in the Statehouse.

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Contact Rep. Thomas with questions or concerns through e-mail at h44@in.gov, or by calling the Statehouse toll-free at 1-800-382-9841. It is also possible to write him at 200 W. Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204.