Kennewick's new policy to require contractors to verify that their workers have a right to work in the United States might become moot if some state legislators have their way.
A proposed bill in the House of Representatives would prevent state and local governments from requiring a business to use the E-Verify program.
If House Bill 2568 becomes a law, it will override the policy recently adopted by a unanimous Kennewick City Council vote, said Lisa Beaton, Kennewick city attorney.
The electronic system is provided through a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration.
The city now requires E-Verify be used to check employment eligibility of new city hires, and contractors or vendors working with the city must participate in E-Verify to be eligible to receive a city contract. Some professional service providers, such as architects, bankers, lawyers, and vendors providing commercial, off-the-shelf products, are exempt from the requirement.
Rep. Phyllis Gutirrez Kenney, D-Seattle, who sponsored the bill, said E-Verify is a flawed system.
The state needs to help with economic development and mandated use of the program would interfere with that, she said.
The bill would prevent state and local governments from requiring employers to use E-Verify as a condition of receiving a contract, applying for or maintaining a business license or as a penalty for violating licensing or similar laws.
Kennewick city Councilman Bob Parks said he doesn't think it is a coincidence that Kennewick recently adopted the E-Verify requirement and state legislators have introduced a bill to prevent local governments from having a say in who uses the program.
"They don't care about taking jobs away from legitimate citizens," he said.
It's against the law to knowingly employ someone who is in the country illegally, Parks said. He wants to make sure that legitimate contractors are awarded city contracts and aren't outbid by employers who don't use E-Verify.
That's why the policy doesn't include a dollar amount that would trigger the requirement, he said. No matter the size of the contract, it still is taxpayer money, Parks said.
Kennewick business Apollo already uses E-Verify because federal jobs the company has received require it, said Emily Castle, the company's human resources manager.
"It's not difficult to use by any means," she said. "You just have to go through all the steps."
The program can be a burden to employers, especially smaller businesses, because of the time it takes to use the program's website, she said.
There are a lot of steps to verify an employee's eligibility through the program and it may take 10 minutes per employee, she said. The employer enters the information employees fill out on I-9 forms such as name, birth date and Social Security number. The time can vary depending on the identification submitted by the employee.
Each time someone is rehired by the company, the worker must be re-entered into the E-Verify system, she said.
Most of those who attended a Tuesday public hearing for the bill held by the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee in Olympia voiced support for limiting local governments' ability to require private companies to use E-Verify.
About 75 percent of the name mismatches identified by E-Verify are errors in the system, said Rebecca Johnson, Washington State Labor Council government affairs director. It's a flawed system that can prevent legal workers from working.
Pramila Jayapal, OneAmerica founder and executive director, told the House committee Tuesday that passing the bill would send a message to the federal government that comprehensive immigration reform is needed at the federal level. The Seattle-based immigration advocacy group has Tri-City members.
"Without immigration reform, any law that mandates E-Verify simply kills jobs," she said.
Mike Gempler, director of the Yakima-based Washington Growers League, said he would support mandatory E-Verify only if it was part of a larger reform that included a more flexible, useable temporary visa program and legalization for the current work force.
An enforcement-only approach would be destructive for the state's agricultural industry, he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org