Lawmakers back at work

Gov. Owens calls for special session on immigration

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Colorado lawmakers have been called back to work.

Gov. Bill Owens finalized plans for a special session of the state Legislature on Wednesday, after officially calling lawmakers back to the Capitol in an announcement Tuesday night. The special session is scheduled to begin July 6. The session is intended to deal with immigration issues that many legislators said were left unfinished when the Legislature adjourned in May and that the state Supreme Court recently ruled against placing before voters in November.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park -- Routt County's two state lawmakers -- said a special session is necessary and that voters should have a say in Colorado immigration law. On Monday, the state's highest court ruled it will not reconsider its disqualification of ballot Initiative 55, which contained language denying many state services to illegal immigrants, because the initiative violated a single-subject rule for items placed on the ballot.

"I think the Supreme Court decision is very one-sided, to deny the people from wanting to put something on the ballot," Taylor said. "So yes, I think we need to take another look at (immigration). There are some things a General Assembly can do, legally, to force the issue and put the initiative on the ballot."

White expressed similar thoughts Wednesday morning.

"I think we have several immigration issues that still need to be dealt with, and that we did not pass last session," White said. "As a result, I think it is timely for the governor to call us back to look at these issues. I also think that we further need to tighten up the documentation required by employers for potential employees, to prove more forthrightly that the employees are in the state and in the United States legally."

In addition to addressing a ballot initiative, the agenda for the special session includes a proposed package of immigration laws that is modeled after recently passed immigration laws in Georgia.

The proposed package is the result of a Tuesday compromise between two Colorado groups that previously have opposed each other on immigration reform. Defend Colorado Now, led by former Gov. Dick Lamm, spearheaded Initiative 55 and strongly opposes providing state services to illegal immigrants. Keep Colorado Safe, chaired by former Denver mayor Federico Peña, has called Initiative 55 "bad public policy" on the grounds that it would "jeopardize the health and well-being of working families."

On Tuesday, Lamm and Peña issued a joint statement in support of their compromise.

"Our nation's immigration system is broken and in dire need of comprehensive reform," the statement reads. "At a state level, we can contribute to the solution by verifying the legal status of applicants for employment and public assistance."

White said Wednesday morning that, although he had not yet read the proposed law package in full, he had formed an initial opinion about the proposal from news reports.

"It sounds to me like it's somewhat of a toothless compromise," he said. "I don't know that it will really accomplish anything by way of a substantive reform."

Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, released a statement in support of a special session earlier this week.

"I'm looking forward to working with the governor and continuing the Legislature's work on illegal immigration," Romanoff said. "This year, Colorado passed more bills to curb illegal immigration than any other non-border state in the nation. We need to pass tough, practical and fair solutions that are enforceable at all levels of government."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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