Yesterday Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law requiring Utah employers to use E-Verify to make sure their workers are legal. The bill passed both chambers of the legislature with large margins, making Utah the fourth state to require all employers to verify their workers (the others are Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina). Another 10 states require certain groups of employers, usually public agencies and contractors, to verify workers using E-Verify, and nine states have laws reinforcing federal law in other ways (for details, see here).
The bill attracted support from a broad base of constituencies, including a wide range of activist groups, small businesses, labor and a number of major business groups. Especially important was the strong support provided by “Tea Party” groups from around the state. All of the groups were motivated by the realization that E-Verify helps protect Utah citizens, especially children, from identity theft and fraud and that it levels the playing field for more than 1,700 employers in Utah who are currently using E-Verify while making sure that jobs go to legal workers.
The bill contains some unusual provisions, illustrating the delicate balancing act bill sponsor Sen. Chris Buttars had to pull off to get the bill approved in a state where some of the most powerful special interest groups oppose immigration law enforcement. Before signing the bill, Governor Herbert reached an agreement with Senator Buttars to amend the bill during a special session of the legislature in May or June. The amendment will make participation voluntary for the first year, to give businesses time to enroll and adjust their hiring procedures. Using E-Verify becomes mandatory on July 1, 2011. The law applies to employers with 15 or more workers. Employers of legal guest workers would not have to use E-Verify. There are no penalties for non-compliance, making the law less vulnerable to the kind of legal challenges that have tripped up other state efforts to mandate compliance. Instead of sanctioning employers, the state will provide positive incentives for compliance including exemption from penalties under state law should a company using a status verification system inadvertently hire an illegal worker. Also, the state will maintain a list of all those who enroll in the program, presumably to encourage the public to monitor which businesses follow the rules and to reward them with their business.