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E-Verify fails; public vote set for 2012

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Amid passionate rhetoric, a full house at City Hall saw Springfield City Council, minus Councilman Scott Bailes, split its votes 4-4 on whether to approve an initiative petition that would require businesses in the city to use the free federal employment eligibility program, E-Verify.

At first, it appeared the controversial measure - which was crafted by Ozarks Minutemen to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers - would pass if only to be amended to prevent the city from facing lawsuits. City Attorney Dan Wichmer said the monetary penalties outlined in the petition are likely unconstitutional. Councilman Robert Stephens made it clear that he abhorred the measure, but would vote for it to spare citizens the $145,000 expense of putting it on the ballot and to end divisive debate about its merits. And Councilmen Jerry Compton, Nick Ibarra, Tom Bieker and Mayor Jim O’Neal each said the ordinance would be flawed, but its passage would be in the best interest of the citizens.

But a plot twist, followed by a break in the action, led to an unexpected result.

The mayor, who spoke last on the measure, called for his peers to pass the initiative, change it to make it legally sound and protect the city from litigation, and then put it before the voters. This move garnered the interest of Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky, who only minutes before said its passage was akin to “using a bomb instead of a flyswatter” to fight a less than pervasive illegal immigration problem in Springfield.

“We can make it better, but we can never make it good,” Rushefsky said of the bill.

Still, she made a motion to table the measure to thought consider the mayor’s request, a move O'Neal said he vetted with legal staff just before the meeting. This led to a 15 minute break in the meeting as Wichmer tried to determine if tabling the measure was possible given that the law requires action within 30 days of the petition being verified and presented to council. He determined that council was first notified of the ordinance Aug. 10, which meant Sept. 9 would be the last possible day to pass the bill or fail it and send it to voters.

Feeling his proposal had not garnered significant support and fearing that it might not reach voters once amended, O’Neal voted against the E-Verify ordinance.

A date for the city ballot initiative, most likely Feb. 7 or March 6, probably will match the date of the state’s 2012 primary, which could move from February to March as a part of the current special session in Jefferson City.

Ibarra spoke with the most certainty about his support of the failed measure. He said a vote against the bill “was disrespectful to those who do the right thing,” by immigrating legally. “It’s disrespectful to those who defend the rule of law,” Ibarra said.

Both Councilman John Rush and Councilman Doug Burlison said they could not vote for the measure, though they understood that by passing it, it could be more easily amended, while Compton and Bieker said the bill was workable.

A council workshop to discuss ways to amend the ordinance was scheduled for tonight but was cancelled after the bill failed to pass.[[In-content Ad]]


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