Omnibus immigration bill easily clears first vote
Panel pushes legislation to full Senate as enforcement-only measure gets a do-over.
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Sen. Curt Bramble's comprehensive immigration reform bill passed out of committee by a 7-1 vote while Rep. Stephen Sandstrom followed through on his agreement with Senate leaders to open a new bill file Tuesday by removing "objectionable language" from his enforcement-only immigration bill.

The two moves signaled the Legislature's intention to give both the House and Senate signature pieces of legislation on the controversial issue. However, moving in that direction has also created turmoil among some of the most ardent tea-party activists who supported Sandstrom's HB70 bill inspired by a tough Arizona law.

"The message is, you all can come," Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration co-founder Ron Mortensen said. "There is no reason not to keep coming until at least 2013."

Mortensen said tea-party groups — upon passage of Bramble's SB288 — began organizing immediately to figure out how to combat its passage as well as to lash out over the perception that Sandstrom's bill has been made toothless.

Sandstrom said he's fine with removing "reasonable suspicion" from his bill that gave local police discretion to check legal status of someone stopped for a class B or C misdemeanor.

"There is not a new bill to be drafted, per se," Sandstrom said. "It would be taking the elements of HB70 that were passed and rolling it into this new bill. It can happen very quickly with one key change."

Mortensen said in light of the deal cut between Sandstrom and Senate leaders requesting the Orem Republican remove "reasonable suspicion" from the bill and rename and re-number it, he said he and other activists have been asked to stand down on the issue.

Mortensen wouldn't say, however, who asked them to back off and he said he couldn't control supporters for the enforcement-only approach anyway.

That was evident at Bramble's hearing, when they lined up at the microphone to testify against the Provo senator's bill. They yelled, pounded their fists on the table and compared Bramble to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"You people have degrees," tea party member Alexandra Eframo said. "You should be intelligent."

Bramble's bill largely uses the template from Rep. Bill Wright's guest worker bill in that it requires undocumented immigrants in Utah to apply for a permit to work and to pay a fine of $2,500 or $1,000 if it is an overstayed visa. Bramble said if the cost is prohibitive, they could work out a payment plan run through the Department of Workforce Services.

The bill, which would require a federal waiver to operate, also would repeal in-state tuition for anyone who does not have a guest-worker permit and can't show they've paid taxes for three consecutive years. The proposal also would allow spouses and children of an approved guest worker to live in Utah as well.

Bramble said the bill will go into effect in May 2013 whether the federal government approves the waiver or not.

He acknowledged it may not work.

"If nothing else, this may be nothing more than a resolution on steroids for the federal government because it may force action by the federal government," Bramble said.

Rep. Chris Herrod, who saw action on his employer enforcement bill delayed rather than killed by Bramble's committee just before SB288 had its hearing, said he was grateful it might still have a chance at a floor vote. And while not happy that Sandstrom had to change his bill, Herrod said he didn't fault him for doing it and said he was "glad the enforcement bill would go forward."

There is still resistance to an enforcement-only approach, however.

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce sent out letters to all lawmakers Tuesday night imploring them to avoid passing an enforcement-only bill and used a host of economists to point out that, coupled with turmoil in Libya and high oil prices and a fragile economic recovery, a bill like that could stall Utah's economic growth.

In part, the letter read: "In our judgment, immigrant-unfriendly, state-level legislation could have very real and potentially unintended consequences on the Utah economy. Punitive immigration legislation — in substance or perception — could limit the labor force, diminish purchasing power, increase the cost of doing business, discourage outside investment and convention business, hinder people's access to education and impair Utah's reputation as a welcoming and friendly state. Any of these impacts would have a negative effect on the Utah economy at a time when we can ill afford economic disruption."

dmontero@sltrib.com —

SB288, first substitute

Highlights of Bramble's omnibus bill:

Guest-worker portion would need a federal waiver by 2013.

Enforcement clause would be trumped by Sandstrom enforcement bill if that legislation passes.

Fine for an undocumented immigrant would be $2,500; $1,000 if a person overstays his or her visa.

Guest worker would be allowed to bring families with valid permit.