Bill would force startups to vet new workers’ immigration status

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A new bill in the Colorado statehouse could devastate the local startup and tech sectors. It mirrors legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith. Yes, that Lamar Smith. Of SOPA fame.

A trio of conservative Republican state lawmakers are pushing a bill to require all Colorado employers to vet the immigration status of new employees through the controversial federal E-Verify system.

The Colorado Mandatory E-Verify Act (HB12-1309) would subject employers to fines of up to $25,000 and a six-month suspension of their business license for failing to use the system to weed out applicants without proper work credentials.

Setting aside the complex politics of immigration, let’s examine a couple of the more glaring problems with this particular bill.

Identical bills are being introduced across the nation. That typically means the Big Business bill factory, the American Legislative Exchange Committee, is spitting out “model laws” for conservative politicians to sponsor back home.

Colorado’s General Assembly boasts 20 Republican lawmakers with ALEC ties—that’s 20 percent of the entire body getting marching orders from the barons of industry, like the cable/telecom giants, Wall Street and the energy sector.

The Colorado E-Verify bill sponsor Sen. Keith King sits on ALEC’s Education Task Force.

Immigration law is no stranger to the group that’s been described as everything from a public-private membership association of state legislators to a right-wing law-writing front group for special interests.

ALEC is widely believed to have drafted Arizona’s SB 1070, a fire-breathing state immigration law that includes E-Verify mandates, according to a document obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy. The law kicked off a shitstorm of controversy, Arizona tourism boycotts and eventually led to a voter recall of the bill’s sponsor and ALEC member, state Sen. Russell Pearce.

Creating new state immigration law mandates means big money for federal Homeland Security and Immigration Service contractors. And, yes, there is a growing E-Verify cottage industry sprouting up. While businesses get goosed by these specialty HR vendors to handle hiring authorizations, the GAO is raising alarms about the E-Verify system’s ability to scale. Currently, only 243,000 employers use E-Verify, or three percent of all employers nationwide.

When the Tea Party and the ACLU agree mandated e-Verify rules are a bad idea, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.

SOPA author Lamar Smith is behind it. Hardly a friend to the startup and tech community, Smith’s Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885) was passed by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in October and will be taken up by Congress as a national mandate for employers to use E-Verify. There is also a Senate version of Smith’s bill, the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act (S.1196), backed by Iowa’s Charles Grassley.

Many of the same suspects who supported SOPA and PIPA are co-sponsoring the twin E-Verify bills. Among Colorado’s congressional delegation, only Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) has signed on as a co-sponsor to Smith’s bill.

Errors persist in the E-Verify system, according to studies conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, and private statistical research firm Westat.

Of particular importance to this debate, the GAO’s research included data collected from Colorado as the basis for its continued concerns about false positive results, erroneous authorizations and civil liberty violations.

It sends the wrong message about Colorado’s business climate. Creating a fearful work environment and adding unnecessary regulatory burdens to businesses slap a giant sign on the state: The best and the brightest need not apply.

It’s especially jarring compared to stalled federal legislation designed to enhance the local entrepreneurial and innovation sectors, like the Startup Visa Act which is co-sponsored by Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, through smart immigration policy.

Only Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and South Carolina have passed state laws to require all employers to use E-Verify. THAT’s who we’re modeling our local economies after? Reactionary states facing significant (and expensive) federal legal challenges to their immigration policies?

This week, the Immigration Policy Center published a paper on the legal and economic consequences of harsh immigration laws. It’s not good.

Déjà Vu all over again

Colorado currently requires state agencies and contractors to use E-Verify—a law enacted during an ugly, politically-charged 2006 special legislative session demanded by then-GOP Gov. Bill Owens to overhaul the state’s immigration laws.

After riding out five days of lawmakers hurling racism charges at each other during the rare summer session, it’s astonishing that the HB12-1309 sponsors want to kick that hornets’ nest again.

What’s even more incredible is that the primary House sponsor Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centenntial) represents the Denver Tech Center “suburbs” that are home to TiE Rockies president Vic Amed’s new Innovation Pavilion as well as a vibrant startup community. The Senate co-sponsor Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) presides over an emerging entrepreneurial scene being nurtured by Springs Startup, the local arm of Startup America.

The bill has been assigned to the House Economic Development and Business Committee. A hearing date hasn’t been scheduled yet.

In the meantime, have an opinion of this bill? Here’s how you can contact the main sponsors and the running list of supporters.

We’ve updated Tekhne’s Colorado bill tracker to make it easier to track bills, get the inside scoop and contact lawmakers. Each bill has its own pages with more timely updates, office and social media contact info, links to lawmakers’ campaign fiance reports and more. Check it out.