Wait a Minute, Minuteman 

Three immigration bills, a letter to Congress and an LID

Though he lives 70 miles south of the Canadian border, in Athol, Idaho, Rep. Phil Hart went down to Sasabe, Ariz., in 2008 to spend a night with one of the Minutemen groups.

Those are the private citizens who take it upon themselves to prowl the borders looking for people crossing from Mexico. Hart went down to see it for himself.

"What it firmed up in my mind is that we really have a big problem," Hart said, adding that the Minutemen at the border were helping curb illegal crossings.

This week, Hart introduced a bill that would penalize businesses that "knowingly" hire undocumented immigrants with suspension or cancellation of their business licenses and would label any jurisdiction that did not enforce the law a sanctuary city. Hart brought a similar bill last year that stalled in the House State Affairs Committee.

But this year, there's already a bill in the Senate with a similar aim, though Hart said he had not read the anti-immigrant bill from the Canyon County delegation.

That bill, S.B. 1271, awaiting a hearing in Senate State Affairs, makes it a misdemeanor offense for employers to knowingly accept false identification in hiring. It also criminalizes the person using the false ID and the person manufacturing it.

But there's a third election-year immigration bill out there, also to be heard in Senate State Affairs. That one is being sponsored by Sen. Mike Jorgenson of Hayden Lake, who brings similar legislation almost every year.

Jorgenson got his bill this year from Kris Kobach and his law school class at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. Kobach, who worked for former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and was recently profiled in the New York Times, is on a crusade to fight illegal immigration at the local level. According to the Times, Kobach is partially paid by the legal arm of FAIR, a well-known anti-immigration group.

Jorgenson's bill, S.B. 1303, would prohibit Idaho employers from hiring people illegally in the United States, negate driver's licenses issued to "aliens" in other states, limit Idaho's driver's test to English only, reinforce the E-Verify system for checking work documents and make "sanctuary cities" in Idaho ineligible for state grants.

There was no discussion of the contribution of illegal workers to the economy or to the state coffers. Or of the many Idahoans who speak other languages and still need to drive.

Since we're on the topic of contributions, a nascent effort to respond to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on corporate meddling in elections was sent back to the drawing board last week.

The House State Affairs Committee sent a Joint Memorial--that's when the Idaho Legislature sends a letter to Congress--back to its Democratic sponsors, demanding they be nicer to corporations and at least a little mean to unions.

Rep. Brian Cronin, a Boise Democrat, agreed to both changes and hopes to resubmit the document to the committee for a potential hearing.

The memorial urges Congress to "negate the deleterious effects of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission." That's the decision that defines corporations as people with regard to electioneering expenditures.

The memorial starts out downright patriotic: "We the People of the state of Idaho are endowed with certain unalienable rights that are expressly conveyed to people, and not to corporations ..."

Seems obvious enough. But the electioneering law that the Supremes negated applies equally to corporations and unions, and the first draft of the Idaho memorial left out mention of labor unions (Idaho AFL-CIO boss Dave Whaley sat in the back of the hearing). So several Republicans suggested Cronin take his letter back and add some language reigning in labor as well.

The committee also got hung up on the word "evil," which appeared in the text in the context of a 1907 Senate report on campaign finance. The report stated: "[t]he evils of the use of [corporate] money in connection with political elections are so generally recognized that the committee deems it unnecessary to make any argument in favor of the general purpose of this measure."

We have no argument either. Just don't be evil.

Though "evil" is a bit too strong a word for it, the Legislature is continuing its project of stripping local authorities of any power they may have to raise revenue. This time, it's Local Improvement Districts, which are meant to raise cash for infrastructure improvements in parts of municipalities.

Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican from Eagle and candidate for Congress, is bringing a bill, H.B. 489, to stop city councils from creating an LID more than $250,000 without a vote of the members of the LID--either 60 percent of resident owners or two-thirds of all property owners within the district.

Though it appears aimed squarely at the City of Boise, which has been discussing an LID to pay for part of a downtown streetcar, Labrador reminded the House Revenue and Taxation Committee that he's brought the bill before and it's passed the House before, only to be stopped in a Senate committee.

A few years ago, a similar bill targeted the City of Eagle, which wanted to buy a municipal water system through an LID, though that version applied to all LIDs, not just those over $250,000.

Whether or not it's inspired by the threat of Labrador's bill, Boise has taken a different tack of late, suggesting that the streetcar might get built without imposing an LID on downtown property owners.

Streetcar spokeswoman Cece Gassner told the City Club of Boise in a recent debate on the project that if the amount needed from the LID gets low enough, it would not be worth it to pass an LID.

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