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Posted: 7:34 PM- A comprehensive immigration bill cleared a major hurdle today in the Senate.

After an on-and-off, 2-1/2-hour discussion that spanned much of the day, the measure was approved in an initial 21-8 vote. All Republicans, except Sen. Kevin Van Tassell of Vernal, supported SB81. All Democrats, except Sen. Gene Davis of Salt Lake City, voted against the bill.

With today's lopsided tally, the bill is expected pass out easily in Friday's final floor vote.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, made five amendments to SB81 today after talking to business leaders in the past two days. He also said Senate leaders spoke to church officials to gain support for SB81.

"It has become necessary for the states to take care of this problem," Hickman said of illegal immigration. "This is not an issue of race or national origin, but it is simply that we are a country of laws and we expect the citizens of the United States to obey those laws."

Among other things, the bill would enlist some state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration statutes, force public employers and their contractors to verify the legal status of workers and make it a Class A misdemeanor to transport or shelter undocumented immigrants.

The Salt Lake Chamber today announced its support for the revised SB81.

"While much of these objectives will require federal action, your modified bill will help us achieve a more sensible approach to immigration policies in this state," Lane Beattie, the chamber's President and CEO, said in a public letter to Hickman.

Still, after SB81 passed, bill opponents said they couldn't still believe it was approved, considering that many people, including lawmakers, had concerns and unanswered questions about the bill.

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