COLUMBIA --- A new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act and greater accountability for subcontractors were part of an Arizona-style illegal-immigration bill that an S.C. Senate subcommittee approved Thursday.
The bill, S. 20, does not include part of the legally problematic Arizona proposal to allow authorities to jail a suspect while determining immigration status. However, the South Carolina bill does allow law enforcement to check the legal status of someone who has been stopped for a non-immigration offense, if the officer suspects the individual is in the country illegally.
In a 3-1 vote, lone Democrat Sen. Robert Ford, of Charleston, voted against the bill. He cited the potential for profiling Hispanics, added burdens placed on law enforcement and the absence of appropriate legal representation for detainees.
He also argued the bill would hinder agricultural activities, which he said rely on a labor pool that is hard to fill with resident South Carolinians.
The bill, which heads to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration next week, contains a host of other elements, including:
A CLEAN SLATE: An employer can have its name removed from the state Web site's list of offenders if it has had no other citations after an initial, minor violation of the 2008 law that requires them to verify the status of employees. The 2-year-old law targeting employers became fully effective in July of last year.
PROTECTION FROM RETALIATION: The identity of someone who makes a complaint against an employer for employing illegal immigrants would be exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
MOVING PRISONERS: Jail staff may take an illegal-immigrant prisoner to a federal facility before the inmate's full term has been served.
LOOPHOLE CLOSED: Subcontractors and sub-subcontractors at a work site must provide written confirmation that they have complied with the state law, along with their contact information. The requirement would be in addition to compliance with the 2008 law.
Thursday's subcommittee meeting follows a handful of meetings held across the state in recent months to gather community comments on how to address illegal immigration.