Immigration bill carries big price tag
Legislature • Estimated $11 million cost to local governments meets with criticism from cities.
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Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only immigration reform bill could cost local governments in excess of $11 million, according to financial data released Monday by the Legislative Fiscal Analysts office.

Sandstrom has been in discussions with various groups — including the Utah League of Cities and Towns — in an attempt to bring that number down and suggested during a meeting Monday that a way to offset those costs would be to impose a fee on wire transfers of money from Utah to other countries as well as adding a fee to the existing driving privilege card.

The Orem Republican also said the costs of his legislation would be offset later by savings.

"I understand issues and challenge cities face. I truly believe if my bill goes into effect, you will actually save money as a city," Sandstrom said, citing his three terms as a city councilman in Orem. "Maybe not in the first few months, but shortly thereafter you will. That is something we can't quantify when you look at costs."

Some cities — including mayors and police chiefs — gathered at the Capitol to listen to Sandstrom make his case for HB70, which is an enforcement-only bill that would require local law enforcement to check people's residency or citizenship status if officers have "reasonable suspicion" they aren't in the country legally.

Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen said he "resents" the bill's unfunded mandate, adding that cities need to prioritize what is important to enforce.

"We frankly have those cases of serious criminal nature," he said. "We work with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and transfer those that are convicted of crimes of a more serious nature and don't dismiss that."

Concerns about cost dominated the questions fielded by Sandstrom.

According to the fiscal note, the expense of his legislation would range between $5.3 million and $11.3 million. The cost to the state would be $875,300 in 2012 and $829,800 in 2013.

The bill also would tag the attorney general's office with a $143,000 bill in 2012, and the Department of Public Safety would incur an additional cost of $162,000 that same year.

The league, which represents 247 local municipalities in Utah, hasn't taken a formal position on the bill. Executive Director Kenneth Bullock said that will come when the bill is in its final form.

"It's hard to take a position on a bill that is a moving target," Bullock said. "This is a very malleable bill that is morphing as it goes through."

Sandstorm was still entertaining ideas and suggestions for his bill and said he would look into changing the language so minor infractions wouldn't require local police to check legal status and instead keep it focused on more serious offenses.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross said if the bill didn't require officers to inquire about legal status on traffic citations, it might not be as burdensome for police.

Sandstrom is proposing to help offset the costs in two possible ways.

First, a 1-percent fee would be imposed on wire transfers from Utah to a foreign country. He said if the transfer was from a U.S. citizen, the fees would be entered on tax forms and would be fully refunded to the individual who wired the money.

His rationale is his belief that undocumented workers don't file tax returns and, therefore, those fees would go into a fund that could be used to pay for local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Ron Mortensen, spokesman for the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said another proposal he is discussing with Sandstorm is to levy a fee on the existing driving privilege card.

Bullock said reimbursement or funding for enforcement must be part of the equation of Sandstrom's bill.

"The feds are cutting back on their funding to states," Bullock said. "States are cutting back on their funding — they have funding priorities. But at some point, somebody has to deliver that service and there are costs. Who is willing to pay for it? That is a decision that needs to made on a local level rather than just having it mandated down." —

Provisions of the immigration bill

Would require law officers to verify the legal status of any person stopped, detained or arrested when there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally.

Would expand felony law against transporting undocumented immigrants so that the violation could be for any distance, instead of the current provision of 100 miles or farther.

Would make it a felony to knowingly or recklessly encourage or induce an undocumented immigrant to come to Utah or to reside in the state.

Would allow a warrantless arrest of a person when an officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is subject to deportation.