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Chamber votes to oppose E-Verify initiative

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Last edited 2:09 p.m., Dec. 20, 2011

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors yesterday voted to oppose an upcoming ballot initiative that would require Springfield businesses to use the federal E-Verify employment eligibility software or face penalties. Of the roughly 30 votes, there was one abstention, and no votes in favor of the initiative.

In July, the Ozarks Minutemen, a Springfield-based group of volunteers, obtained the needed signatures to convert the E-Verify petition into a proposed ordinance. At its Sept. 6 meeting, Springfield City Council chose not to enact the ordinance, which set it up for a public vote on Feb. 7, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.

During a meeting yesterday, the chamber board weighed a recommendation from its Local Issues Public Policy Task Force, which urged the chamber to oppose the initiative based on testimony from spokespeople with the Ozarks Minutemen and opponents of the initiative, Cindy Rushefsky of City Council and Joe Robles of State Farm Insurance in Springfield, according to Board Chairman Jerry Harmison of Harmison & Pearman PC. (Editor's note: SBJ Publisher Jennifer Jackson is a member of the chamber's executive board.)

Harmison said the board chose to follow the task force's recommendation for four reasons:
  • the initiative's legality is in question;
  • it lacks evidence of a significant local problem;
  • the board believes the issue should be taken on at a federal level rather than a local level; and
  • it would place an undue burden on small businesses.

City Council narrowly voted to pass the initiative on to voters, as City Attorney Dan Wichmer said the monetary penalties outlined in the petition are likely unconstitutional. At its early September meeting, some council members felt that passing the initiative would allow the city to write changes that would make it legally sound and protect the city from potential litigation.

Harmison said the initiative is "illegal on its face" and would likely result in the city spending thousands of dollars to defend it.

He added that when the chamber's task force held its meeting with the Ozarks Minutemen, its spokespeople pointed to national data to support the initiative but couldn't provide statistics showcasing a problem on a local level.

"At least locally, there is no evidence that this is a significant problem in Springfield," Harmison said.

Ozarks Minutemen spokesman Jerry Wilson confirmed studies on a local level have not been done, but he noted the organization has received reports of illegal work activity in the area.

"The question is - will we wait for a visible problem?" Wilson said. "The bottom line on this is that we don't think you can ignore what has happened in other cities.

"For the Chamber of Commerce to pretend that there is not a problem ... is extremely shortsighted."

Harmison estimated that 75 percent of its roughly 2,000 members are small businesses and that the majority of these companies typically don't have human relations departments to deal with an initiative such as this. If businesses were required to use E-Verify, he said, it would place a significant burden on the area's small businesses.

Moving forward, Harmison said the chamber's members will be informed of the board's decision to oppose the E-Verify initiative, but the chamber will not openly speak out against the proposal before the public.

Wilson said Ozarks Minutemen will continue to engage the public in the days leading to the February vote.

"We'll continue to reach out and get the message out, and let people hear both sides," he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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