Illegal immigration opponents urge HB116 summit
Immigration • But guv's office didn't commit, no special session is planned to address issue.
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Gov. Gary Herbert met privately with several outspoken critics of Utah's guest worker law this week and is weighing one of their proposals to host a summit on the issue in the coming weeks.

Arturo Morales-Llan said he met with Herbert on Thursday and proposed a format where four, evenly distributed workgroups with supporters and opponents of HB116 would attempt to reach consensus on employer sanctions, immigration enforcement, a guest worker program and the needs for business within the state.

"The inertia by the federal government on immigration negatively impacts legal and illegal immigrant communities alike," Morales-Llan said. "It's time to get the guest-worker program right for Utah and the rest of the country, and the inclusive summit approach we are proposing does just that."

But Ally Isom, spokeswoman for the governor, said no commitments have been made and cautioned Herbert's idea of a summit and Morales-Llan's idea of what it was could be very different.

"The governor held a round table a year ago in June and we had a dialogue about having a follow up," Isom said. "The governor supports the approach of bringing all voices to the conversation. This issue warrants a serious amount of time and coordination."

Brandon Beckham, who has been a leader in the move to repeal HB116, said he met with Herbert for more than an hour Thursday and said it was "the most substantive dialogue yet" on the issue.

"I think he is ready to move forward and to be a leader on this issue," Beckham said.

Beckham, whose meeting was separate from Morales-LLan, also thought the repeal or replacement of HB116 "would be dealt with in a special session" of the Legislature.

However, under the criteria for a special session — legislative consensus and a need to deal with a matter in a timely manner warranting the expense — Isom said it could be inferred that tackling HB116 didn't meet that criteria.

Senate President Michael Waddoups also indicated there was nothing on the radar for addressing it in a special session — noting the lack of consensus on the issue within his own chamber.

"We haven't even had a discussion yet, let alone get consensus," Waddoups said.

And Joe Pyrah, spokesman for House Speaker Becky Lockhart, said there were no plans in the House to deal with it in a special session either.

HB116 was signed into law by Herbert in March and doesn't take effect until July 2013 while officials attempt to secure waivers from the federal government to operate a guest-worker program. Under its provisions, undocumented workers in the state could obtain permits by passing background checks and paying fines of either $1,000 for an overstayed visa or $2,500 for entering unlawfully.

Critics charge the law has no chance to operate legally because the federal government doesn't have waivers to grant Utah to allow it to take effect and it would open the state up to a lawsuit.

The law has also been divisive in the Republican Party within Utah, pitting many tea party supporters against establishment GOP groups like the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sutherland Institute as well as party leaders such as Herbert, Lockhart and Waddoups.

A resolution seeking to repeal the measure passed at the Republican State Convention by 94 votes out of 1,572 votes cast. The resolution, however, was nonbinding.

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero