Rep. Phil Thompson. (IA Legislature photo)

Republicans on a House subcommittee have advanced a bill that would let the state suspend or revoke business licenses from employers who knowingly hire people who aren’t eligible to work in the U.S.

It would require that businesses use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the immigration status of job applicants. Critics say the E-Verify system is sometimes inaccurate and the bill would unfairly penalized businesses for hiring someone the system indicated could be employed.

“We have a worker shortage and this bill kind of makes us become the immigration police for the state of Iowa,” said Larry Blixt, a lobbyist for a Red Oak based association that represents Iowa greenhouses.

No one spoke in favor of the bill during a statehouse hearing today. The two Republicans who voted to keep it eligible for further debate have major concerns about how the bill would affect businesses, but decided to keep it alive to continue the conversation. Republican Representative Phil Thompson of Jefferson said almost every section of the bill has flaws that would have to be changed before he’d support it.

“Appreciate the sentiment of the bill,” Thompson says, “but in practice I think it puts a lot of the (enforcement) burden on businesses and that’s just not something I’m really confortable doing.”

The chairman of the House committee that would consider the bill says the federal government’s E-Verify system isn’t foolproof and Republicans will have “a good conversation” about those failings before they’d ever bring the bill up for a vote. Backers of the proposal have been trying since 2012 to require that Iowa businesses use the E-Verify system to confirm all employees are in the country legally.

Radio Iowa