Commission Favors Affidavits To Check Work Status
The Highlands County commissioners agreed Tuesday with the goal of keeping companies that do business with the county from using illegal workers.
They did not, though, endorse the proposal of the American Party of Florida to require use of the federal E-Verify system to check legal employment status by companies with a county contract.
Instead, the five commissioners agreed to consider requiring companies that bid on a county contract to sign an affidavit stating they will not use illegal workers on the county job.
Tom Macklin, state chairman of the American Party of Florida and former mayor of Avon Park, called use of such an affidavit "a good first step."
The commissioners instructed county Administrator Michael Wright to draft a proposal for future discussion. It will include mandatory use of E-Verify in hiring county employees, and an affidavit for companies with county contracts pledging that they won't use illegal labor.
"My philosophy is, immigration control is not a task of local government, it's a task of the United States government," said Commissioner Jeff Carlson.
Carlson said he does not oppose making companies with county contracts pledge in writing that they won't hire illegal immigrants. But, he said, the county should not dictate which tool a company uses to verify the employment status of its workers.
"I'll be in favor of an affidavit on a trial basis," said Commissioner Guy Maxcy.
About taking other actions to ensure county contracts don't go to a company using illegal labor, he said, "I think we should proceed with caution and wait to see what the feds and the state do . . . we have to crawl before we walk."
Commissioners Don Bates, Edgar Stokes and Barbara Stewart also said they would consider the affidavit proposal.
Stewart, though, disagreed with Carlson about immigration control being strictly a national issue.
"Personally, I believe our national government needs to do something about it," she said. But, she added, local governments should also deal with the issue.
"I think we have every right to address it," Stewart said about discouraging illegal immigration.
"When you look at the projections of the amount of money that we will spend on education and on Medicare, these two items will be the biggest burden that our state and local governments will be facing in the future," she added.
"And there is a direct tie between people who are here illegally, working illegally, and these two big costs for us at the local level as well as the state level."
Stewart agreed with Bill Youngman, an American Party member, that the federal I-9 form, which all employers must use to check legal employment status, does not work well because of the ease in forging documents.
"I think anybody who has been around understands all the forgeries, and we cannot say that the I-9 system is working. It is not," Stewart said. "I know people who have and brag about having illegal Social Security cards who are working. So, obviously, the I-9 system is not working."
Macklin said discouraging employers from hiring illegal workers is needed to "level the playing field" for companies competing for county business.
While he would prefer requiring E-Verify, Macklin said, he supports an affidavit in which companies bidding on county business pledge that "they are using a legal workforce, as opposed to exploiting those who may be here in an undocumented state, where they would be working for diminished wages."
Wright and county staff will develop a specific proposal which, if the commissioners adopt, will have to include penalties, said Ricky Helms, county assistant administrator.
"Would it be loss of an existing contract?" Helms asked. "Or would it be barring of that company from doing business with the county from that point forward?"
Before making a decision, Stokes said, the commissioners need further discussion at another workshop or a public hearing.
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