Immigration, Voter ID bills’ fates uncertain

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

The Mississippi House of Representatives completed its calenderdeadline for the introduction of bills last week without seeing theintroduction of legislation to deal with illegal immigration orvoter identification.

While similar bills to deal with the two issues remain alive -passed on to the House from the Senate – some officials arequestioning the House’s lack of a clear stance on the subjects.

“Those bills will come over from the Senate, but we did not seethem in the House,” said Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven. “I hopethe House leadership lets us vote on those bills in the House -that’s what the people in Mississippi want. For our stateLegislature not to be able to vote on it would be sad – I’d look tosee who promised they were gonna do something about it anddidn’t.”

Currie said the Senate bill on immigration that was passed on tothe House is similar to a strict bill passed by the OklahomaLegislature last year, making it a felony to harbor, employ ortransport illegal immigrants, with a $1,000 fine and up to one yearin prison for each felony count. She said the stiff penaltiesincluded in the Oklahoma bill, which the current Senate bill couldbring to Mississippi, would serve as a stiff deterrent to those whohire illegal immigrants.

“Oklahoma has passed this, and it’s working,” Currie said. “Ihope they let us vote on it in the House, because if the federalgovernment won’t deal with it, we can.

“I personally don’t have not figured out what part of ‘illegal’we don’t understand,” she continued. “We’ve got to do something -our hospitals are taking care of illegal immigrants for free, ourschools are taking care of them and we don’t who’s really here inAmerica.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, can now only watch herchamber’s immigration bill from afar, as the Senate similarly dealswith bills passed over from the House. She believes the chances ofthe legislation passing through the House are “not so good.”

“I have very little hope of that bill arriving,” Hyde-Smithsaid. “From my experience, I’ve learned that if they don’t havesomeone carrying the torch for those issues, the bill will not comeout of the legislative session. And I thought we passed some reallygood legislation out of the Senate.”

Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, has a different view.

“Just because the House didn’t pass an illegal immigration billdoesn’t mean very much at this stage – the legislative process isonly halfway through,” he said. “It takes both sides to get itdone. The Senate bill on immigration is now property of the House.Both bodies don’t necessarily have to pass legislationsimultaneously for it to stay alive.”

Moak pointed out that different sets of bills often originate inone chamber of the Legislature or another, like appropriationsbills. He does not believe that the House has lost any face behindthe absence of an illegal immigration bill because the legislativeaction remains to be taken.

“You can make the same argument on the other side,” Moak said.”You can say the same thing about anything the House passes thatthe Senate didn’t, like teachers’ pay raises. The Senate neverpassed teachers’ pay raises, but now the House bill on pay raisesis property of the Senate.”

Whatever the fate of the Senate bill on illegal immigration, theprocess to determine it begins this week as both chambers resumecommittee meetings to prepare for midnight, March 18, deadline forall general bills.

“It’s a tennis match – back and forth,” Moak said. “A lot offolks have the perception that, ‘Oh, the House didn’t do this, nowit’s dead.’ No it’s not. The process is incomplete.”