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States cool even more on immigration bills

State Sen. John Watkins (R-VA)

The number of state legislatures enacting immigration bills declined by 20 percent in the first half of 2012 from a year ago, according to a new report.

State legislatures enacted 206 immigration bills and resolutions in the first half of 2012, said a report unveiled at the National Conference of State Legislature’s immigration policy summit in Chicago on Aug. 6.

The report backs a previous study by the organization that covered the first quarter of 2012, which also showed a decline.

According to the most recent report, lawmakers in 41 states enacted 114 bills and adopted 92 resolutions dealing with immigration during the first half of 2012.

The numbers mark a decrease of 20 percent from the 257 laws and resolutions enacted in the first half of 2011, it said.  Law enforcement and identification/driver’s licenses remained the leading issues addressed by state legislatures, comprising 18 percent and 11 percent respectively, of all enacted laws on immigration, it said.

“States took a bit of a pause on the issue of immigration as they waited for the Supreme Court to rule," said state Sen. John Watkins (R-VA), co-chair of the NCSL Immigration and the States Task Force. "The ruling we got is a yellow light, in that states can move forward in some areas, but not in others.”

“On the issue of immigration, the outcome in November really doesn’t matter. Whoever is elected president will need to work with both parties in Congress and address this issue," said state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-WA), co-chair of the NCSL Immigration and the States Task Force. "The can has been kicked down the road for too long, and states have suffered as a result. Come January, action at the federal level needs to happen,” she said.

According to the report, there are multiple reasons for the decline in immigration-related legislation, including budget gaps and redistricting activities that state legislature priorities, consuming the bulk of states’ agendas. Perhaps more significant, said the study, state lawmakers cited pending litigation on states’ authority to enforce immigration laws, such as the Arizona v. United States decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, as further reason to postpone action.

As the nation awaited the Arizona v. United States ruling, according to the study, state omnibus immigration legislation slowed significantly.  Unlike 2011, when 30 state legislatures introduced more than 50 omnibus bills similar to Arizona’s, only five states – Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia – did so this year, and none were enacted, it said. Alabama was the only state to act on an omnibus bill in 2012, amending its 2011 law, it added.

Among the immigration bills passed, said the study, E-Verify, the federal work authorization system, was of particular interest. Six states enacted legislation addressing employers’ use of E-Verify, raising the total number of states with E-Verify requirements to 19.

In total, said the study, lawmakers in 46 states and the District of Columbia introduced 948 bills and resolutions related to immigrants and refugees during the first half of 2012, a 40 percent drop from the peak of 1,592 in the first half of 2011. Legislatures in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas did not meet in regular session in 2012.