ALAN SUDERMAN Associated Press Writer
HELENA The first in a series of bills designed to curb illegal immigration was endorsed by the Senate on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, would prohibit unlawful workers from obtaining or renewing state occupational licenses, such as those needed to be a plumber or a doctor. The measure passed 27- 23, with every Republican senator and three Democratic senators voting for it. Shockley, who has sponsored four other bills designed to restrict illegal immigrants this session, said the majority of Montanans want the government to punish unlawful workers. He told the Senate that he was “nibbling around the edges” of the illegal immigration issue because immigration is the federal government’s responsibility. “The problem is the Congress passes laws they don’t want the president to enforce. And guess what, he doesn’t enforce them,” Shockley said. Opponents of the bill said it was unnecessary and would create problems for law-abiding workers. Applicants for professional licenses would have to present a valid Social Security or tax-identification number, or an official document proving the applicant could work in the United States legally. Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, said a similar effort had been tried in Colorado but failed and wound up costing taxpayers there $2 million. “The public expects these laws to work,” Wanzenried said. But Shockley said his bill would work and that opponents were trying to “muddy the waters” surrounding the illegal-immigration debate. “Some Democrats don’t want to make illegal immigrants uncomfortable,” he said after the debate. Sen. Jesse Laslovich, D-Anaconda, said he voted against Shockley’s bill because it was bad policy, not for partisan reasons. “There are already codes in place that protect Montana’s workers,” Laslovich said. The Senate was scheduled to vote on another anti-illegal immigration bill sponsored by Shockley today. That bill would make it a felony for an illegal alien to register to vote. Shockley’s bills are Senate bills 258, 260.