ALAN SUDERMAN Associated Press Writer
HELENA Efforts to target Montana companies that employ unlawful immigrants are all but dead this legislative session, and one Republican legislator says some members of his own party who “sold out” to business groups are partly to blame. Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, had a host of bills this session targeting unlawful immigration in Montana. All were effectively killed either by the Republican-controlled House or the Democrat-controlled Senate. Shockley said his legislation primarily targeted employers who take advantage of the low wages they can pay unlawful immigrants, and deprive U.S. citizens of jobs. Shockley said he was particularly upset with House Republicans who voted recently against his bill that would have allowed the state not to award contracts to companies that hire workers they either know, or should have known, to be unlawful immigrants. “The Republicans sold out to the Montana Contractors’ Association and the Chamber of Commerce,” Shockley wrote in a newspaper editorial. In an interview, he said the Republicans were “fooled” about his bill and did not realize it pertained only to state contracts. “That’s what’s so offensive,” Shockley said. “It’s the taxpayers money.” A lobbyist for the Montana Contractors’ Association said members of the House were not tricked into voting against the bill, which he said was “rife” with problems. Construction contractors in Montana feared losing state contracts without having an opportunity to defend themselves, Cary Hegreberg said. “They could go broke on the basis of allegations,” Hegreberg said. House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, said he thinks most Republicans believe illegal immigration is an important topic for voters, but his caucus’ opposition to Shockley’s bill stemmed from legitimate concerns that the measure might harm lawabiding owners of businesses. Sales pointed out that the House overwhelmingly supported a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jopek, D-Whitefish, that would have fined any business that hired an unlawful immigrant. A Democrat-controlled Senate committee tabled Jopek’s bill, along party lines, last month. Shockley said the issue of illegal immigration isn’t going away and will be a “hotbutton issue” next election. He said he might pursue a voter initiative with language similar to that in his bill targeting contractors who employ unlawful immigrants. “Most people care about this issue more than their pocketbook,” Shockley said. Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, opposed all of Shockley’s unlawful-immigration bills and said they “encourage us to distrust people with dark skin.” She agrees with Shockley that unlawful immigration could be a widely discuss topic in the next state election, but said it would be one without merit. “It is a created issue rather than a real problem,” Kaufmann said. Shockley’s bill is Senate Bill 346. Jopek’s bill is House Bill 185.