Competing Senate bill awaits House action
COLUMBIA -- The S.C. House of Representatives unveiled another immigration reform bill Monday, setting up a battle with the Senate over whose version should be enacted.
Leaders of both sides have said immigration will be a priority for the 2008 session, but each wants its version of immigration legislation to be the one that passes.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said the House proposal is more wide-reaching than a package the Senate approved in 2007. That Senate bill is awaiting action in the House judiciary committee.
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Harrell explained the House plan Monday at news conferences across the state. He plans to file the bill, which he labeled The South Carolina Plan, this week.
About 15 members of the House Republican Caucus joined Harrell as he outlined the details, saying this would be the third year the chamber has tried to get immigration laws passed by the entire General Assembly.
"We've been at the forefront of looking at and studying this issue," said House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Charleston. "Only now do we feel we have the momentum."
Lawmakers say they are responding to voters' concerns about the state's fast-growing immigrant population. South Carolina's Hispanic population grew 47 percent between 2000 and 2005, the Census Bureau reported.
Georgia passed immigration reform in 2006, and South Carolina must act before the state becomes a "safe haven," Harrell said.
Harrell's bill would be one of at least 35 bills addressing immigration, and many overlap.
Even with so many bills on the table, Harrell was optimistic his version would get through the House within three weeks.
Harrell's bill includes some of the same measures already addressed in the Senate's immigration package, such as a requirement for the State Law Enforcement Division to negotiate with the federal government so its agents can enforce federal immigration laws.
The bill does include new proposals, such as prohibiting illegal immigrants from attending state colleges and universities and penalties for towns and cities that ignore immigration laws.
While House leaders said they are determined to move quickly on creating immigration laws, Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg, said the fastest way for the House to pass a bill would be for it to act on last year's Senate proposal. Representatives could add their ideas to the Senate bill and send it back for consideration, he said.
"The only reason for them to start on a whole new bill is political grandstanding," Ritchie said.