Immigration bill could pose quandary for legislators

By Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

House would have to decide whether
to allow a full vote or let it die in committee.

JACKSON – Undecided legal questions surrounding Arizona’s new immigration law won’t necessarily stop the Mississippi Legislature from trying to pass a similar proposal during the 2011 session.
And that could cause a good bit of discontent in the Mississippi House among various factions of the Democratic leadership.
A federal judge last week struck down the most controversial parts of the Arizona law – those requiring immigrants to carry their papers and banning illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places.
The appeals could set off a lengthy legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
If similar legislation were proposed in Mississippi, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, would most likely refer it either the Judiciary A or Judiciary B committee.
Both of those committees are chaired by Democrats, Ed Blackmon of Canton at A and Willie Bailey of Greenville in B, who might prefer not to bring the legislation up for consideration.
Chairs opt to kill literally dozens of bills each session by not bringing them up for consideration. But most likely, Republicans would make an effort to bypass the committee to have the full House consider the immigration bill.
That could put the House leadership in a tenuous position. Many Democrats, particularly rural, conservative ones, might desire to vote for the issue – especially in an election year.
The House leadership has faced similar conundrums in the past.
The Republicans have not been successful in bypassing the committee process and bringing a bill to the floor, but they have caused problems for the Democratic leadership.
Last session, for instance, Republicans objected when Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, chose not to bring up legislation to prevent the offering of abortion coverage in the state’s health care exchange that will be established as part of the federal health care legislation.
Holland argued that state law already prevented the exchange from offering abortion coverage. Republicans were not satisfied, but could not garner the votes to pull the bill from his committee.
By the same token, the House leadership could not muster the votes to adjourn the session.
In the end, the House extended the session a day to pass the legislation.
The immigration bill could pose similar woes for the House Democratic leadership.
A new requirement
The bill would, among other things, require law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally if they are stopped for another possible crime.
That was one of the stricken Arizona provisions.
But some statewide officials, viewed as candidates for other offices in 2011, said during last week’s Neshoba County Fair’s political speakings that the court ruling should not prevent Mississippi from passing a similar law.
They basically said “pass it” so the Obama administration could sue Mississippi as it did Arizona.
“Best thing we can do is adopt the same law and say ‘sue me, too,'” said Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosesmann, who many view as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2011.
Asked about taking up an issue that had been blocked in the courts, Hosemann said, “That was one federal judge.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who hasn’t announced his plans but is viewed as a certain candidate for governor, said he felt certain the Arizona law would be introduced in the state House and Senate that it would pass the Senate, where he presides.
“If the Obama administration wants to file another lawsuit let it be here in the state of Mississippi,” he said.
State Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, part of the House leadership, questioned the wisdom of the Mississippi Legislature tackling an issue that would still be caught up in the federal court system during the 2011 session.
“It has been the position of the Legislature not to address anything that is pending before the courts,” Flaggs said.
Plus, Flaggs said the issue is different here than in Arizona because Mississippi does not share a border with Mexico.
“If the House does address this I believe it will in a civil manner,” he said. “I don’t know of any House member running for governor or lieutenant governor. If it wasn’t an election year, this would not come up. That is the bottom line.”
Bryant was elected lieutenant governor in 2007, in part on a tough stand against illegal immigration stand.
In 2008, Bryant pushed through legislation that made Mississippi one of the first states in the nation to require employers to use the federal e-verify system to ensure workers were legal residents.
At the time, business groups opposed the law, saying the system was not reliable.
Bryant said that since then, the system’s use has increased 700 percent.