Within the first few weeks of the 2011 legislative session, I asked Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, if he would provide some added legislative leadership on the volatile issue of undocumented immigrants living in Utah. He said he would, and he has and I'm grateful for it.
We now have Senate Bill 288 in addition to SB60 and HB116 as comprehensive alternatives to Rep. Steve Sandstrom's Arizona-style, "enforcement-only" HB 70, even though the current patchwork of SB288 includes HB70.
Now that we are getting close to a conclusion, I believe it would be helpful to define what success really looks like for a comprehensive solution.
One level of success is simply to stop Utah from patterning its laws after Arizona's. To do this would require the Utah Senate to kill the Senate version of HB 70 and keep similar text out of SB 288. Even the perception that Utah is following Arizona will deeply damage our state economy.
In prior sessions, the state Legislature passed SB81 and SB251 dealing with law enforcement and employers, respectively, but neither law has any teeth. Keeping Utah from turning into Arizona should be the first priority.
Another level of success would be to create a state-based comprehensive plan. Bramble's SB288 is a step in this direction. Using HB116, Rep. Bill Wright's "guest-worker program," as its base text, Wright's bill has been ornamented with other ideas, currently including HB70, designed to collect needed votes within the majority Senate Republican caucus.
The gold standard for a state-based, comprehensive policy in harmony with the Utah Compact is SB60. But for Senate Republicans, SB 60 has a political problem: Its primary sponsor is Sen. Luz Robles, a Democrat. Though it was graciously passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by Chairman Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, Senate Republicans have made it clear that SB60 will not make it out of their chamber.
This political reality, as unfortunate as it is, leaves Bramble's SB288 in the catbird seat among advocates for a comprehensive solution. But the bill has its problems as well, not the least of which is the specter of HB 70. To achieve the highest level of success for a truly Utah solution and to create an innovative model for the rest of the nation Utah state legislators need to acknowledge that SB288 is still missing a few key elements.
First, as long as the political necessity is to gain a majority of votes in the Senate Republican caucus, SB288 will not be a bipartisan solution. Another political reality is that Democrats, not Republicans, will have to sell any program to the immigrant community. Without a bipartisan bill, that job will be much tougher. The irony is that 15 votes from a mix of Republicans and Democrats would create better policy than 15-plus Republican-only votes.
Second, as mentioned above, any effective piece of legislation will require buy-in from the affected immigrant community. The little problems with SB288, such as having the "guest-worker program" administered through the Utah Department of Workforce Services (home to the infamous "list") instead of the Department of Public Safety (home to the successful driving privilege card) could make selling SB288 very difficult.
The big problems with SB288, such as its emphasis on seeing the issue for Utah as singly economic and not primarily as a matter of public safety and personal accountability, could make selling SB288 impossible. What good is any program if nobody signs up?
To Bramble's credit, SB288 remains a work in progress. Personal ego has nothing to do with the danger of creating a less-than-effective compromise at this point. Partisan politics, along with some very strong opinions about undocumented immigrants living in Utah, seem to have everything to do with it.
I can't envision our state legislators, or even Gov. Gary Herbert, being invited by other state legislatures to come and explain the virtues of a less-than-effective policy.
Getting this policy right is not an issue of the perfect being the enemy of the good. It's all about creating a policy that actually works for everyone.
Paul Mero is president of The Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank based in Salt Lake City.