COLUMBIA -- South Carolina has decided not to wait for the federal government to get around to an illegal immigration solution.
The House voted 69-43 Tuesday to give key approval to a bill that would require state and local law enforcement to check a person's immigration status during arrests and routine traffic stops if an officer suspects that person is in the country illegally.
So far this year about 30 states have considered comprehensive illegal immigration reform bills, many of which center on law enforcement, employment verification and eligibility standards for social services, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah's approach, in contrast to states such as South Carolina and Arizona, is to establish its own temporary guest worker program.
The South Carolina bill builds on the state's 2008 illegal immigration law that requires businesses to verify that their employees are in the country legally.
A perfunctory vote to give the bill final approval is expected today.
The Senate passed the bill in March and Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law. First, the House and Senate need to agree on some final details.
Among the outstanding details are:
--Determining what documents will be acceptable to prove immigration status or citizenship.
--Allowing the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to issue new fines between $15,000 and $50,000 to businesses that repeatedly break the 2008 law.
--Whether to add a $5 fee on international wire transfers of up to $500 and a 1 percent fee on transfers of more than $500.
The Senate could adopt the House version of the bill or lawmakers from both bodies could meet in conference committee to nail down the details.
Republicans stood solidly behind the bill.
Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Summerville, said he supported the bill because it makes "good financial sense" for the state. An often cited 2010 study by the Federation of American Immigration Reform estimates that illegal immigrants cost the state $391 million annually, primarily in social services. Others argue that illegal immigrants build the state's economy, such as by paying sales tax.
"I think when you look at the problems that we have with illegal immigration, the financial cost that the state has to bear, we need to encourage more legal immigration," Murphy said.
Democrats tried to defeat the bill, at least for another year. Reps. Joe Jefferson of Pineville and David Mack of North Charleston discussed the human consequences of the proposed law and the unknown costs it might impose on local governments.
Jefferson said the legislation will "come back to haunt" the lawmakers.
"Now, all of sudden, we have the audacity to play God and try to tell those who can stay from those who can't," Jefferson said.