CARSON CITY – Two bills relating to illegal immigrants sparked heated debate in an Assembly committee this morning.
One from Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, would impose penalties and restrictions on illegal immigrants in a way similar to a controversial Arizona law enacted this past year.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, proposed that the state adopt the federal “E-Verify” system, an electronic database that verifies someone’s employment eligibility.
Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, had to ask numerous times for both the support and opposition to keep their comments relevant to the bill.
“I want to stick to the merits of the bill because any time we single out one group or another we do a disservice to the state as a whole,” she told those listening to the hearing.
Meanwhile, observers on the social media site Twitter accused each other of racism and bigotry.
Hansen’s bill would require proof of identity to vote, restrict eligibility for Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship to U.S. citizens, prohibit non-citizens from obtaining driver’s licenses or receiving certain state benefits.
He said the bill is mainly about jobs.
“The number one issue that was confronted with was the economy and the second was illegal immigration,” Hansen said of his talks with voters while campaigning for office last year.
Hansen said that the state’s undocumented workers are preventing Nevada’s unemployed people from finding employment.
He cited figures that show Nevada has a high number of illegal immigrants. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study also found that Nevada ranks No. 1 in the nation in terms of the percentage of illegal immigrants comprising a state’s total population.
Hansen’s bill would cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars if passed into law. This is because it would require state agencies to spend more money to comply with the bills numerous requirements.
“You have half the kitchen sink here is what you have,” Kirkpatrick said of Hansen’s bill.
Hansen’s bill also would require the state to use the federal “E-Verify” database that verifies someone’s employment eligibility.
Hickey’s bill would require contractors bidding for state public works projects to use that system.
“I think this is a small first step,” he said. “This is not talking about all employers in this state, but starting with public works projects, which are tax-payer-funded ones.”
Opponents to the bill said that the federal database upon which E-Verify relies is rife with error. Contractors also objected to the language of the bill because it would make them responsible not only for their organizations, but for their subcontractors as well.
“The E-verify system is an attempt to try to do something that we support, but it has just not proven to be effective,” said Warren Hardy, lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Nevada.
The bills sparked reactions from the numerous Hispanic legislators who sit on the Assembly Government Affairs committee.
Assemblywomen Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, and Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said that anyone testifying should restrict testimony to immigrants rather than Hispanics.
Others suggested that the bills would polarize the Hispanic electorate.
“It’s because of Republicans like [Assemblymen] Hickey & Hansen why R’s will have hard time making inroads with Hispanic voters in NV,” said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, via his Twitter account.
The government affairs committee took no immediate action on either bill.