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Gardner, Henderson report

House Report: E-verify would be required of state employers

Employers must utilize an online database to verify that workers are legally in this country, and illegal immigrants who accept a job with “reckless disregard” that they are “unauthorized aliens” could face up to five years in state prison or a large fine under a bill that passed the House of Representatives last week.

SB 2988 was approved on an overwhelming vote on the House floor. Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue in the halls of the Capitol for several years. Under the proposal, employers who make an honest effort to determine a worker’s status — through the Dept. of Homeland Security’s “E-Verify” system — would be exempt from liability, investigation or lawsuit arising from having hired the employee. However, any employer violating the act would see their contracts cancelled and would be ineligible for a public contract for up to three years and would lose a license or permit granted by the state for one year. Individual homeowners who hire people found to be illegal would not be liable under the act, if the work performed was not for commercial purposes. Opponents of the bill said it would punish workers found to be illegal too harshly. The bill sets deadlines for employers to meet the employee verification requirements, and all employers must meet those standards not later than July 1, 2011. The bill now goes to the governor for his approval.

During committee meetings and hearings, Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning told the House Ways and Means Committee that they have monumental capital improvement needs. The head of the university system, College Board members and university presidents converged on the committee to request almost $230 million in general obligation bonds to fund the projects.

The IHL officials said that if the Legislature does not pass a capital improvements bond bill – the governor has said that would not be possible – then the system’s ability to raise funds for the projects elsewhere is very limited. The system does not favor raising tuition to fund such projects, the leaders said. Asked about a lottery to help raise funds, they said only that a “dedicated stream of revenue” is needed.

The state’s two-year college system also has great needs, their leaders told the committee. One of their funding goals is $128 million in bonds for capital improvements, along with “mid-level funding” between the per-student allowance for K-12 and regional public university students.

Approved was HB 1601 to fund the Medicaid program next year. That budget will be in an amount over $4 billion in all, with the state putting up 25 percent of that. The bill’s financial section includes a $1 per pack increase in the excise tax on cigarettes. It also deletes the controversial “face to face” requirement for Medicaid recertification.

Through HB 1640, the House put $25 million into the Dept. of Insurance’s wind-storm “re-insurance.”

Year to date, a report showed the state’s General Fund tax collections are about $20 million above the latest projections with four months left in the FY 2008 fiscal year. Individual income taxes are $32 million above estimates, while sales taxes year to date are $58 million below. Gaming collections are almost $10 million above projections, signaling a strong comeback in that industry.

Last week House Concurrent Resolution 26 created a study committee to make recommendations for the development of a program for providing medically necessary transportation services to financially needy cancer patients.  The committee must make a report of its findings and recommendations to the Legislature not later than December 1.