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White, Taylor say voters lost their voice when immigration legislation passed

— Routt County’s two state lawmakers give different amounts of disapproval to proposed laws restricting services for illegal immigrants.

Speaking a day after the end of a special session of the state Legislature, called by Gov. Bill Owens to address immigration issues, Rep. Al White had harsh criticism for the session, while Sen. Jack Taylor tempered his dissatisfaction with cautious optimism.

“I don’t think any of the legislation we passed is really substantive in making changes,” White, a Winter Park Republican, said Tuesday. “I think we ended up with virtually nothing.”

The primary result of the session, which ended late Monday night, is the bipartisan House Bill 1023. House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Jefferson County Democrat, crafted the bill. It requires people 18 or older to show valid proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or state-issued identification card, when applying for public services or benefits in Colorado. HB 1023 has Owens’ approval and, pending his signature, will be effective Aug. 1.

White said the law can be altered too easily in the future and therefore does little to affect real change.

“If we’d have put (HB 1023) in the constitution, which would have taken a vote of the citizens, it couldn’t be undone,” he said. “Anything that was done (Monday) night can be undone next session.”

In an election year, when majorities in the state House and Senate are on the line along with the governorship, the effect of illegal immigrants on Colorado taxpayers has become a divisive issue.

Taylor said the “main reason” he voted against HB 1023 is that it does not let voters decide in November.

“Nobody got everything they wanted — it was clearly a compromise situation,” he said while returning from Denver on Tuesday. “But the bill is going to require and enforce some checking on about a million people that either already get services, or are trying to receive services — that’s probably a good thing. Time will tell.”

Prominent Colorado Democrats spent Tuesday praising the work of the five-day session.

“These will be the strictest verification requirements in the country when it comes to public assistance,” Romanoff said. “If folks are getting benefits for which they are ineligible, we’ll stand a better chance of finding out under 1023 than under current law. What we’ve got now is a lock on the door — what we’re adding is a burglar alarm.”

HB 1023 applies to services including retirement, welfare, disability, public or assisted housing, food assistance and unemployment.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter, both Democrats, expressed their support of 1023 and the work done during the special session.

“I’m pleased that the Legislature … has passed a package of bills that are tough, fair and effective,” Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, an Arvada Republican who is also running for governor, called the session a “small step in the right direction” but said much more needs to be done.

“We must get serious about employer sanctions for those who provide the jobs that are attracting the flood of illegals,” Beauprez said.

HB 1017, sponsored by Adams County Democrat Judy Solano, addresses that issue by requiring employers to obtain proof that their employees are in Colorado legally. It allows the state Department of Labor and Employment to audit, and potentially fine, employers who “recklessly disregard” that requirement. The bill was approved during the special session and is awaiting Owens’ signature.

HB 1018, sponsored by White, would have required every employer in the state to obtain that proof in the form of a driver’s license or state ID card. The bill passed the House but failed in a Senate committee.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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