June 28, 2006

Gov. Owens To Call For Special Session On Illegal Immigration

It's official--special session on tap next week (full conference video):

The Legislature will be brought back to work to consider barring non-emergency state services from illegal immigrants.

Owens said the session will begin July 6 and -- unless lawmakers craft a "substantive" proposal -- he would like to see a measure sent to the voters in November.

The governor's announcement came a few hours after he received a letter signed by 19 House Republicans asking him to give the public a chance to vote on any plan approved by lawmakers -- in essence, a request to put something on the Nov. 7 ballot instead of settling for a change in state law.

The immigration debate has been heating up in Colorado and two weeks ago, the Colorado Supreme Court barred a proposal from the ballot that would have asked voters to deny most non-emergency state services to people in the country illegally.

Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, and others say the judges effectively kept the public from deciding an important issue based on a technicality (the court said the ballot question addressed two subjects instead of the single subject required by state law).

"Colorado citizens were denied their constitutional right to vote, and it is the duty of the governor and the General Assembly to restore this right," the Republicans told Owens.

The governor agreed, saying he found their decision puzzling and unfair to voters.

Exactly what might come out of the Legislature isn't known, but supporters and opponents of the original ballot initiative struck a compromise this week.

Both are backing a plan, modeled on a recent Georgia law, that cracks down on both employers who hire illegal workers and illegal immigrants trying to get public assistance.

Majority Democrats said they could put a law on the books immediately rather than wait to ask voters in November, drawing the ire of Republican lawmakers who insisted that the special session should be a referendum on "activist judges," not just illegal immigration.

"This is a desperate attempt by Democrats to deny our citizens their right to vote on one of the most pressing issues facing Colorado today," the Republicans told Owens. "We therefore affirm our belief that the principle goal of this special session be to give the vote back to the people of Colorado and allow their voices to be heard."
Not sure of the efficacy of mixing the illegal immigration issue with the criticism of activist judges--sometimes the secondary issue (activist judges) becomes the primary focus--but the special session is sure to produce some rhetorical fireworks following July 4th, resonating come November, regardless of the outcome of the legislation referred. Cracking down on those taking advantage of the system, including the employers making use of cheap labor, sounds like a better plan when combined with verification requirements for the immigrants themselves. Too bad this does not/will not happen on the national level, where real effective policy can be made. Nonetheless, the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to strike off this ballot initiative has ended up bringing this critical issue to the fore even more quickly, with the debate taking place in the next week or so, rather than the slow campaign debate that would evolve over the next few months. It also gets the Democrats on record for the fall on their positions on illegal immigration, an added boon for the GOP.

The news conference will come at 2 pm MDT:
The special session will include a proposal by ballot initiative proponents for a compromise on the issue based on a law enacted in Georgia, Owens' spokesman Dan Hopkins told The Associated Press.
The Georgia law requires employers to verify a worker is in the United States legally or lose the right to deduct that worker's salary on their taxes. It also requires people applying for non-emergency state services to prove their citizenship.

"The agenda will include the compromise proposal by Defend Colorado Now as well as other significant immigration related issues," Hopkins said.

The compromise between Defend Colorado Now and Keep Colorado Safe was worked out Tuesday afternoon. Both sides say their goals can be accomplished with comprehensive legislation.
. . .
The governor's decision to call a special session came a day after the state Supreme Court said it would not reconsider its decision to block an immigration proposal from November's ballot.

The ballot proposal would have barred illegal immigrants from getting non-emergency state services; the state would still have to provide schooling and emergency medical care under federal law.


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