Missouri Senate OKs illegal immigration bill

JEFFERSON CITY | The Senate approved a broad bill Thursday that adds penalties and restrictions on illegal immigrants, but also includes provisions opposed by House leaders that affect businesses.

The troublesome provision, which sponsoring Sen. Scott Rupp attempted to keep off the bill, would allow employers to be fined up to $50,000 if they misclassify their workers as "contractors" instead of "employees." It grants authority for the attorney general to investigate such matters.

It's among several changes made to the bill earlier this week that Senate and House negotiators will try to work out.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, said employers cheat the state and their workers when they misclassify them because companies then don't have to pay withholding taxes, worker's compensation and unemployment.

Rupp, R-Wentzville, said he's OK with creating fines for doing that, but called it "radioactive" in the House. It was tacked onto the bill by voice vote earlier this week.

The overall immigration bill also would require people to prove they are U.S. citizens or legally in the country when applying for food stamps, housing and other public benefits; penalize businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants; and order the Missouri State Highway Patrol to seek federal immigration training.

Senators completed work Wednesday on the bill, but they stopped just short of a vote because of questions about its cost and political jockeying over an unrelated measure. Gov. Matt Blunt in a news release on Wednesday warned that he would call lawmakers back to a special session if they don't pass an immigration bill before they adjourn Friday at 6 p.m.

Senators picked up the bill again Thursday morning, approving it 27-7. The measure started as House legislation, but because senators made changes before approving it, House members must decide whether to accept the Senate version or negotiate their differences.

House Immigration Committee Chairman Jerry Nolte said his chamber would have been far more likely to take the Senate provisions had the misclassification penalties not been added.

Nolte, R-Gladstone, said he has concerns about the authority it gives to the attorney general and whether it should be grouped with illegal immigration. But Nolte said he's not certain whether lawmakers would accept that element to guarantee that lawmakers pass immigration legislation.