Statehouse Report – February 1,2008

This week we had our first “lengthy” debate of the session: comprehensive immigration reform package. (Debated for roughly three hours).

The bill is the broadest attempt yet to make our state less attractive to illegal immigrants. Granted, this is really a federal issue but in absence of action from our federal officials, we must turn off the magnets that are luring these illegals to our state (Note: other Southern states have passed similar legislation thereby “closing their borders” to the problem. We can’t have the problem growing in our state because of our inaction).

What South Carolina can’t do is physically stop the invasion of illegal immigrants from coming into the country in the first place. That is a responsibility that only the federal government. But we can do something.

First, law enforcement agencies must check someone’s legal status if they commit a crime. Second, the law prohibits any area of our state from becoming a “sanctuary city.” Third, it prohibits college admission and public scholarships for illegal immigrants. Fourth, it prohibits illegal aliens from receiving public benefits and employment on public projects. Fifth, it is now a felony to possess false identification papers.

The bill also encourages employers to use the Federal SAVE Program to check if their employees are in the country legally. There is no cost for employers to use this program. If an American is fired and an illegal immigrant is hired in his place, the American worker can sue for his job back. There is no cost to employers to check with the SAVE Program.

The number of illegal immigrants in South Carolina has exploded 15 fold in the last decade, and according to the best estimates, illegal immigrants cost South Carolina taxpayers more than $186 million a year.

We’ve passed immigration bills before in the House,only to see them sit in the Senate. Oftentimes complex legislation (in terms of multiple sections and sweeping changes to those sections) allows opponents to “pick away” at particular section or piece in hopes of ultimately killing the bill.

To assure something gets done should comprehensive packages fail to pass, I plan to continue to push to keep your hard-earned tax dollars from funding scholarships for illegals through a much smaller bill which could find an easier path to becoming law. This bill should appear before the House Education and Public Works committee in the next few weeks and hopefully to the floor and Senate before the cross-over deadline.

In other House action, we approved a bill that will extend healthcare coverage to the tens of thousands of South Carolinians working for small businesses. The bill allows groups of these businesses to band together and offer health insurance to their employees.

The biggest problem with healthcare are skyrocketing costs that have forced many small businesses to make a decision of offering insurance to employees or going out of business. When these small businesses are allowed to band together, they can get the purchasing power of their larger competitors, which means lower rates.

We expect many businesses to take advantage of this as soon as it becomes law.

Lastly, the House recognzied Public Libary Appreciation Day. You may recall during last year’s budget debate, I fought for an extra 25 cents per capita for our state libraries. Unlike several other budget requests that avoid the public eye, I took my amendment to the House floor for all to see, debate, and vote. My colleagues approved the request that benefited every county library in our state. Full disclosure – the way it should be with our budget. Imagine that….state dollars funding state libraries? (Not state dollars funding one, two, or a handful of counties or member’s districts)