Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Things Are Not Always What They Seem~ HB1013

The Arkansas House will soon be considering a bill involving illegal workers that would instruct a board 
with no legal authority to enforce the law, possibly put contractors in legal dilemmas while also making life for small businesses more complex and tedious. 

The House State Agencies Committee convened this morning to hear proposed bill known as amended HB1013, it was passed and will now go to the House floor.

The only problem here is, according to testimony from Greg Crow, Administrator for the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board, the CLB has no authority or jurisdiction to enforce this law.  The privacy act has a very limited list of entities that are legally able to look at the documents such as the I-9 and E-verify systems that are used to confirm citizenship. And the CLB is not on that list.

The CLB currently has just over 8,000 contractors licensed through their office, which Mr. Crow estimates is only 40 percent of the industry in Arkansas.  Currently there 6 CLB field investigators to cover the state of Arkansas, which is funded by state government, however, (much to their credit) Mr. Crow told me his board is self sustaining.
Rep. Nickels (D-Sherwood) the legislator running the bill,  provided an impact study which shows the increased costs to the state for the CLB to enforce HB1013, even though it’s apparently illegal for them to even do so.  I didn’t see that study, but Mr. Crow told me each additional investigator hired would cost $100,000 a year in salaries, equipment and expenses.

Moreover Bruce Cross, head legal counsel for Associated Builders and Contractors of Arkansas, testified that not only can the CLB not enforce this law, it opens up our state and the contractors in Arkansas to potential legal ramifications with regard to IRCA. Mr. Cross also said this law only deals with the construction trade in Arkansas and not other industries. His point was if illegals are deterred from construction employment by this law, then what about other industries?

A gentleman who was a roofer testified for the bill. He explained how he has trouble finding a job because those here who are working illegally can work for so much less. He said he has traveled for hours in search of work to no avail. He said that he didn’t have a computer which, if this law passes, means that he wouldn’t be able to comply with the law.  Rep. Nickels stated he “could hire a staffing agency to take of it for him.”… LOL, oh really? This man, who can’t find work, is most likely not
licensed himself, has no computer, and works for a low hourly wage and now he should hire a staffing agency?

I guess he could buy a computer, purchase Internet service, hire someone to hook it all up for him and spend hours learning how to use it.  Wait… I thought this was about illegal immigration, not putting
more onerous restrictions and encumbrances on small business owners?

Also, Mr. Crow informed me that of their 8,000 members (remember that’s only 40 percent of the contractors in our state) less than 800 of those have an email address associated with their

This means only 10 percent of the contractors licensed with the CLB use, or even, have internet and email; think that’s a large leap? According to an Internet access study only 57 percent of U.S. homes have access to the Internet. Arkansas is one of the most rural states in the nation; might our access be even more limited than many others?

That’s why I found Mr. Nickels’ unrelenting insistence on the E-Verify system to be so mystifying.  Currently contractors have access to the I-9 system (paper) and E-verify computer process, which has a 54 percent failure rate according to Both Mr. Crow and Mr. Webb.  However, in his argument, Rep. Nickels was adamant  that only E-verify be used to offer cover for contractors as their affirmative defense. 

Rep. Anne Clemmer offered an amendment last week that was adopted today that I posted earlier (which also provides a little more background on this story.) Her amendment didn't originally include the E-verify system requirement, which she stipulated today.But at Nickels’ firm stance it was added. Rep. Ed Garner offered an amendment to the bill just today that failed because it offered language that said either system could be used.

It seems to me that this would put small business owners at a distinct disadvantage at a time when they are already hurting. The Arkansas AFL-CIO is the most vocal supporter of this bill, which leads me to wonder why would Arkansas unions want to put additional burdens on business owners in our state? Could this open the door for businesses to be taken advantage of by having to turn to more organized entities (i.e. unions) to help them out? I’m just asking here.

Might this be somehow used as a tool to harass or strongarm Arkansas business owners into accepting unions? The bill is unclear on many fronts, especially as to how it will be implemented and just who will be enforcing it. I think Arkansans have learned from past experiences (here picture of the state lottery) that open doors within poorly-conceived bills that make for many headaches later.

As stated by everyone on both sides of this bill, the matter of illegal immigration in Arkansas is one that must be effectively addressed. However, this bill falls far short of that goal in more than one way. What say we take our time to develop a first-class bill that addresses the immigration problem in our state when it comes to employment?  What we need is a well-conceived law that’s both legally enforceable and with which small business owners can comply without crushing them beneath additional burdens, especially in this troubled and uncertain business climate.

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