COLUMBIA — In a showdown vote on the chamber floor Wednesday, state senators refused to send Gov. Mark Sanford an immigration-reform plan after arguments were made that the bill is "a paper tiger" and "riddled with errors."
The 26-20 vote does not mean reform efforts have failed for the year; it amounts to the latest volley over a red-hot issue that has bounced between the House and
Senate, gotten tangled up in negotiations and left the public fired up.
"We're about to stampede," Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said as he successfully persuaded his colleagues to reject the House's latest plan.
Last week, the House sent the Senate a bill that would require all employers to use state-issued driver's licenses or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's online database E-Verify to check the legal status of workers.
McConnell, R-Charleston, argued that enforcing certain parts of the bill would lead to constitutional problems. He also said the House's plan did not set penalties severe enough and that the bill contained a number of errors.
He offered an alternative Senate bill that would mirror the House's in most ways but set higher fines for breaking the law, shut down businesses that intentionally hire illegal immigrants and correct the perceived problems.
The Senate put off discussion on McConnell's proposal until the senators could become more familiar with the details. It could come up for a vote as early as today.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, and other Charleston-area senators said they voted to approve the House's plan with the intent to address some of McConnell's concerns in subsequent legislation.
Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who voted against the House bill, raised several concerns from the floor, most notably the potential for real-life implications.
"Have you thought about the consequences?" he asked senators.
Meanwhile, some senators, including David Thomas, R-Greenville, said they were suspicious that McConnell's proposal could contain a "poison pill." Thomas' concern was raised when a bloc of Democrats, which has opposed reform plans all along, seemed to join McConnell in lockstep.
"Something's wrong with that picture," Thomas said.
McConnell, who has led the charge for stiff immigration-reform measures on multiple fronts, said the answer is simple. He sat down with opposing Democrats and was told what they wanted, a cushion that protects employers who act in good faith. Then he said he wrote that into his proposal.
Next, the Senate leader said he was going to discuss the matter with House Speaker Bobby Harrell and other influential members and try to sell his idea to the Senate.
"We're in a logjam and we won't get a bill, but there's a way out," he said.
In all, the legislation addresses an assortment of issues in addition to worker verification standards. It also would require jails to verify the nationality of prisoners and ask the federal government for the authority to enforce immigration laws, among other provisions.
Let's talk about illegal immigration
Listen to eight panelists tackle the issue of illegal immigration and the S.C. bill aiming to reduce the number of undocumented workers. The hour-long discussion will be Web cast live at 9 a.m. Monday on Charleston.net.
Panelists will be: Lydia Cotton, Hispanic community liaison; S.C. Sen. Bradley Hutto, D-Orangeburg; North Charleston council member Rhonda Jerome; S.C. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston; Diana Salazar, president of the Latino Association of Charleston; S.C. Rep. Wallace Scarborough, R-James Island; S.C. Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach; and North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt.
Readers may submit questions until noon Friday at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How they voted
The state Senate voted 26-20 Wednesday to reject the House's latest plan for illegal immigration reform. Here's a look at how the local senators voted:
Republicans for: Campsen, Isle of Palms; Cleary, Murrells Inlet; Grooms, Bonneau; Scott, Summerville.
Democrats for: None.
RepublicanS against: Campbell, Goose Creek; McConnell, Charleston.
Democrats against: Ford, Charleston; Matthews, Bowman; Pinckney, Ridgeland.