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Senate Passes E-Verify Bill - (5/26/2011)

Senate passes E-Verify bill .

HARRISBURG (May 25) – The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require contractors working on public building projects to verify the legal status of their employees.

Senate Bill 637, introduced by Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, would require contractors and subcontractors working on building projects funded by the state to use a federal system to verify whether their employees are legally allowed to work in Pennsylvania.

The bill calls for the use of the federal E-Verify system operated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The bill is similar to the federal regulation put into affect by the department in 2009, which requires federal government contractors to verify the legality of their entire work force through E-Verify, according to a Senate GOP news release.

The measure passed 42-7 and was sent to the House.

Ward said the bill ensures that quality work is done, taxes are paid, and that there are no national security threats from undocumented workers.

Seven Senate colleagues voted against Ward’s bill, to which she said: “I can’t figure that out.”

For the roll call vote, CLICK HERE.

“At the end of the day, illegal is illegal – period,” she said, adding that there is no cost to use the E-Verify program. “…This is commonsense to me.”

The building and construction trade unions in Pennsylvania think so, too.

Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania Building & Construction Trades Council, said the bill could help unemployed Pennsylvanians.

“There’s a real problem in construction with undocumented workers in Pennsylvania,” he said. “[This bill] will help put more Pennsylvanians back to work.”

Sirianni said his organization has “always been in favor of verifying residency and citizenship and the legality of workers on state-funded projects.”

But at least one business group, The Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA) differed.

Melissa Etshied, director of public relations for the PBA, said the organization was concerned with the accuracy of the system.

“We are opposed to it due to the fact that the system seems to be somewhat flawed, allowing individuals to be mistakenly identified as illegal aliens,” she wrote in an email. “Another concern is that the construction industry is singled out when hiring illegal immigrants could certainly be an issue in other areas.”

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services says about 15.6 million contractors and employees used the E-Verify system nationwide in 2010. Of that total, 224,365 were not authorized to work.

Of the seven Senators that voted against the bill, there are four Democrats from Philadelphia County. The other three are Republican Senators from Lancaster, Lebanon and Venango counties.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said the verification of legal working status should be something taken up at the federal level.

“It should be federal policy, not state policy,” he said.

Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, said she felt that the law could negatively affect small contractors or new contractors trying to start a new business.

Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, said she felt certain questions regarding the accuracy of the program were not answered, echoing the PBA concerns.

“I just had some questions that weren’t quite resolved,” she said. “It’s not a bad bill.”

White said she didn’t want to vote for something that could possibly be inaccurate as to which workers were legally in the country.

“I worry about the possibility of people not working,” she said. 

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