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State immigration bills see significant drop, but not off the table

The number of bills introduced in states across the U.S. dropped significantly in the first quarter of 2012, according to a state legislature association study released on May 22, but some may be waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), which bills itself as a bipartisan organization serving legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories, said although immigration continues to be a hot-button issue with state lawmakers, bills aimed at immigrants and refugees saw a steep decline in this year’s first quarter compared to last year’s.

In the first quarter of 2012, it said 865 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees were introduced in 45 state legislatures and the District of Columbia. The number represents a 44 percent decrease from this point last year, when 1,538 bills were introduced, it said.

According to NCSL, as of March 31, 27 states enacted 24 laws and adopted 74 resolutions. The total of 98 is 30 percent lower than the 141 measures enacted in the first quarter of 2011, it said, noting that five additional bills were awaiting governors’ signatures.

"This issue has not dropped off of the radar screen in state legislatures,” said Virginia state Sen. John Watkins (R) and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States. “Some states are waiting to see how the Supreme Court rules on immigration issues before moving ahead with their own policy debates."

For bills introduced in the first quarter of 2012, the report found that law enforcement with 125 bills, employment with 119, and public benefits with 92 were the top areas of interest.

Immigration enforcement measures like Arizona’s SB1070 continue to garner attention, however. It said five states in 2012 introduced omnibus enforcement bills containing provisions similar to the Arizona law, including Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.  Mississippi’s and West Virginia’s bills have failed, according to the organization.

"States continue to urge the federal government to become a partner in reforming immigration policy. States are seeking a national solution to relieve the pressure," said Washington state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D) of the and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Immigration and the States.



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