A committee of business owners and their lobbyists recommended significant changes Wednesday in the state’s new employer sanctions law despite the possibility it could backfire politically.
The panel, put together by House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, wants to alter the statute to say that the only thing a judge can suspend is state licenses of businesses found guilty of knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Gone would be the ability to strip a firm of its articles of incorporation, the only way to punish companies whose operations do not require state licenses.
It would require prosecutors to prove a company’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard now used solely to decide if someone is guilty of a crime.
Prosecutors would not be able to accept anonymous complaints.
And it would say that any firm that uses the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the legal status of new workers would have absolute immunity.
The proposals being presented to lawmakers drew immediate fire from Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the architect of the legislation. He was particularly angered at the last change, saying it provided “employer amnesty,” barring punishment even if prosecutors could show that a business owner purposely cheated in making the computer checks.
Thursday’s vote came despite warnings by Richard Bark, a lawyer on the panel who lobbies for business interests, that pushing ahead with such massive changes could provide more fuel for a group pushing a more comprehensive — and more punitive — initiative.
That measure would put a firm out of business for a single violation of the law. By contrast, the legislation that took effect Jan. 1 says a judge may only suspend a license for a first offense; only a second violation within two years results in license revocation.
“They’re gathering signatures,” Bark said. “If the bill is seen to be weakened by the Legislature, the initiative will move forward.”
And Bark said that if the initiative passes, lawmakers — and businesses — are stuck with all the provisions, as the state constitution forbids legislators from tinkering with anything approved by voters.
But Mitchell Laird, owner of some Burger King franchises, successfully pushed other panel members to recommend the changes anyway.
“You can’t let the threat of an initiative, what somebody else might do, cause you to do anything other than what you think is the right thing,” he said.