House approves anti-immigration legislation

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Mississippi House, in what amounts to a blink of an eye in legislative time, passed its version of the so-called Arizona-style immigration law Thursday.
The House approved the measure 77-40 with little debate. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, took about five minutes to explain the bill, which mandates that local and state law enforcement check the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally if they are stopped for another reason.
After his explanation, it passed with no debate or questions.
The proposal had passed the House Judiciary A Committee earlier in the day.
“This has been the mood of the House,” said Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. “Some have asked for a chance to vote quickly on this. This was a response to members’ requests.”
There has been speculation on how the House would handle the touchy issue since the Senate passed its version of the legislation during the opening days of the session.
House Judiciary B Chair Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, had indicated that he would not bring up for consideration a House immigration bill that was assigned to his committee.
McCoy sent another version of the bill to Judiciary A, where Chair Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, brought the bill up for consideration but actually voted against it on the House floor.
The House made at least one major change from what the Senate passed. Under the Senate version, any person could file a lawsuit against local governments for not enforcing state policy on illegal immigrants.
Local government officials had expressed concern that the Senate provision would make them and their law enforcement officials susceptible to frivolous lawsuits.
The House removed that provision but added language allowing anyone to file a lawsuit against a company that hires an illegal immigrant. If found guilty, the company would face a fine of between $5,000 and $25,000 for each day the person was on the payroll. That money would be returned to the local government to pay for the costs of enforcing the law.
If an employer used the federal E-verify system to determine whether the potential employee is in the country legally, the company would be immune from lawsuits.
“The bill is quite different from the Senate bill,” Moak said.
But both pieces of legislation would require law enforcement to check immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally if they stop the person for another reason, such as a traffic violation, a faulty taillight, jaywalking or a more serious crime.
That section of the Arizona law has been ruled unconstitutional.
Bailey said he opposed the bill because immigration is the responsibility of the federal government.
Plus, he added, “The only reason the Senate passed the bill is to help those (Senate members) running for office. … I don’t think there is an immigration problem in this state.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate and who is a candidate for governor, is a strong proponent of the immigration legislation. Others in the Senate also are running for statewide office.
No House Republicans voted against the legislation, but some said it was a vote to keep the legislation alive because they have not had time to study the House proposal. Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, said, “It came out so fast … it was more a vote to keep in alive, move it to the Senate.”
The Senate can either accept the House changes or invite negotiations to try to work out the differences.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

Roll call
– Vote of Northeast Mississippi House members Thursday on a proposal requiring local and state law enforcement to check immigration status of those suspected of being in country illegally when stopping a person for another reason:
– FOR – Noal Akins, R-Oxford; Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo; Jim Beckett, RBruce; Donnie Bell, D-Fulton; Sid Bondurant, R-Grenada; Bubba Carpenter, RBurnsville; Gary Chism, R-Columbus; Mark DuVall, D-Mantachie; Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat; Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc; Warner McBride, D-Courtland; Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi; Harvey Moss, D-Corinth; Jimmy Puckett, D-Amory; Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman; Margaret Ellis Rogers, R-New Albany; Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona; Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn; Greg Ward, D-Ripley; Tommy Woods, R-Byhalia.
• AGAINST – Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs; Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville; David Gibbs, D-West Point; Steve Holland, D-Plantersville; Tommy Reynolds, D Water Valley.