After four days of passionate testimony last week, Kansas' leading Republican lawmakers don't appear willing to tackle the aggressive immigration measures that Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a fellow Republican — has been advocating.
I dont have a burning desire to address immigration this year, said House Speaker Mike ONeal, a Hutchinson Republican. If we do address immigration in some way, I want it to be something that gets a lot of buy-in and that people can agree this is the way to go.
Lawmakers in this legislative session have a buffet of choices on immigration compared with last year, when all of Kobachs ideas were rolled into one bill that died in a House committee. But this year immigration is competing for attention with such big-ticket issues as overhauling the state tax code and school finance reform.
If lawmakers follow some of Kobachs tougher immigration proposals, however, they would be passing bills that would:
Deny public benefits to undocumented immigrants.
Require governments to verify that applicants for public benefits are here legally.
Make it illegal to harbor undocumented immigrants.
Require police to verify of the citizenship of anyone they detain if they reasonably suspect that person is here illegally.
Kansas lawmakers could take a narrower approach and go with something that would only require the state to participate in an Internet-based system called E-Verify, which allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
Interviews with lawmakers indicated that some variation of an E-Verify proposal might be doable this year.
I think you will see something happen on immigration, but I think its probably going to be pretty limited in scope, said Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat and the House minority leader.
Kobach said he think its most likely that an E-Verify bill will get traction in the Legislature.
As every Kansas legislator who goes door-to-door and talks to his or her constituents knows, the people of Kansas are becoming increasingly frustrated with legislative inaction on the subject of illegal immigration, he said Monday.
Kobach has argued strenuously for tough new laws to deal with the states estimated 65,000 undocumented immigrants. Without doing anything, Kansas will become a magnet for illegal immigration, he warned legislators.
We risk being the one state in the middle of a five-state area that has actually done nothing to discourage illegal immigration, he said. At this point, we are the one state that is rewarding illegal aliens without doing anything to discourage them.
In the Missouri Senate, Lees Summit Republican Will Kraus has crafted legislation mirroring controversial laws first passed in Arizona and Alabama. The bill mandates that all public schools verify the immigration status of enrollees and would require law enforcement officers to check immigration status on all stops when they have reasonable cause.
A Missouri House committee, meanwhile, has given its approval to legislation mandating the state only offer drivers license exams in English.
But theres a wild card in Kansas this year, with one proposal that presents a very different approach to immigration than the one Kobach advocates.