A few weeks ago we wrote several posts warning of the passage of the harshest anti-immigrant piece of state legislation in the country in Oklahoma. Less than a month since the passage of that bill that is has more rigorous anti-immigrant measures than legislation from Colorado or Georgia, the Oklahoma State Chamber is harshly criticizing the harmful and unworkable measures of that bill that they say is not reform, but simply a bad bill for OK.
by Sean Murphy, Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY – A new state immigration law hailed by Oklahoma lawmakers as one of the toughest in the nation on illegal immigrants was decried Tuesday by a group that represents businesses and industries across the state.
The bill in its initial form in the House was opposed by The State Chamber, whose lobbyists worked during the session to remove some provisions it deemed too harsh on Oklahoma employers, said Mike Seney, the chamber’s senior vice president of operations.
“There was no real reform,” Seney said during The State Chamber’s annual meeting at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. “The bill that came out of the House was a bad bill.”
Seney said a number of changes were made to the bill in the Senate, including delaying the effective date of provisions affecting private employers until July 1, 2008, which allowed The State Chamber to remain neutral on the final version.
“I’m not going to say it’s a good bill, but it’s not as bad as it was,” said Monty Akridge, assistant vice president for Integris, who moderated the panel with chamber officials.
Seney said Oklahoma companies that employ illegal immigrants still can face stiff penalties under the new law, but he said employers who use a federal Status Verification System to check their employees are given “safe harbor” under the bill.
Another disappointment for The State Chamber was the Legislature’s inability to enact an overhaul of the state’s civil justice system, which was one of the group’s top priorities this year.
Commonly called tort reform, the measure passed the House and narrowly cleared the Senate by one vote, but was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry.
“We’ll look at those concerns and go back again next year,” Seney said.
Some of the difficulties encountered by lobbyists at the Capitol this year resulted from a host of new lawmakers as a result of legislative term limits.
“We had a great deal of inexperience in the Legislature,” Akridge said. “We just didn’t get the bills moved at all.”
While there were some disappointments for the Chamber, there were also several successes. The group hailed passage of a number of tax exemptions for businesses, a sales tax holiday and the expansion of a program to help employers pay health insurance premiums for their workers.
The keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event was former Gov. George Nigh, who challenged those in attendance to push the state forward as it celebrates its centennial.
“The centennial should end with a comma, not a period,” said Nigh, 80. “Then put the exclamation point there that Rodgers and Hammerstein did in 1943.
“If you’re not excited, then who will be.”