House panels approve E-Verify, photo ID measures
By Steve Peoples
The Providence Journal, April 30, 2009
Providence — The issues have drawn fire from all sides. But Wednesday, there were no fireworks as separate General Assembly committees voted quickly and quietly to approve legislation seeking to crack down on both voter fraud and Rhode Island businesses that employ undocumented immigrants.
The bills are not directly related, according to their sponsor, Rep. John D. Brien, D-Woonsocket, but each has drawn sharp opposition from immigrant advocates such as the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Commission for Human Rights.
This has been turned into some sort of ideological battle when all it should be is a jobs issue, Brien said about his E-Verify plan requiring private businesses to sign statements pledging that all employees are in the country legally. A violation could result in a criminal penalty of up to one year in jail for the employer.
The proposal was approved on an 11-to-3 vote by the House Labor Committee and appears headed toward passage by the full House of Representatives, as has a similar proposal the last two years. To become law, however, it would require the approval of the Senate as well, where it has consistently stalled amid concerns by Senate leaders.
Hopefully the third time s the charm, Brien said. Its a bill that the House of Representatives wants. Its a bill that the governor wants. Its a bill that the people want. There are 38 people in that chamber who need to decide if it's a bill they want.
Senate leaders would not disclose their intentions yesterday. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed would say only that the bill would be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Brien's proposal has also prompted criticism from the business community.
One of the worst policy changes we could make as a state in the current economic environment would be instituting this proposal or proposals quite similar, reads a statement issued by Chamber of Commerce Coalition coordinator David R. Carlin III.
Meanwhile, interest groups were also paying close attention to a separate bill a few doors down the hall, where the House Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 2 to support legislation requiring voters to present photo identification.
It was believed to be the first time that any Rhode Island legislative committee has approved such a requirement.
Twenty-four states require voters to present identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But just seven require a photo ID, according to data collected last fall.
Rather than putting hurdles in the way of voters, lawmakers should be working to lower barriers to voter participation, reads a statement issued by the ACLU and signed by 11 organizations such as the National Organization for Women and the Urban League of Rhode Island. Should the bill become law, it would lead to the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in Rhode Island, and particularly racial minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Brien, who worked with the Secretary of State to craft the proposal, says he doesnt understand the criticism.
To say you shouldnt have to show a voter ID at the polls is absolutely counter-intuitive, he said. If I open up a Hollywood Video account, I have to show a picture ID. This is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans.