From ThePacker.com, Tom Karst, 21 Sept 2011.
Any pretense that the Legal Workforce Act would accommodate the needs of agriculture was dissolved with the votes of the House Judiciary Committee Sept. 21.
The mandatory E-Verify bill, H.R. 2885, was approved out of committee by a vote of 22-13. At the same time, the committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.
Berman’s amendment stripped out a provision that would have allowed seasonal agricultural workers returning to past employers from having to use the E-Verify system. The Berman amendment passed 19-12, said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery and Landscaping Association, Washington, D.C.
“I think what that does is that it strips the bill of any pretense that agriculture’s problem is solved,” he said. “Even though on the surface it is a negative, it may help us to drive this thing in a direction that it is all about the need to take care of agriculture in a serious way.”
An industry-favored amendment offered by Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., to create a market-based guest worker program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was ruled not germane.
“If the (Legal Workforce Act) should pass the House without a mitigation for agriculture, domestic agriculture is in serious trouble,” said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.
In a member alert, the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association said the Legal Workforce Act doesn’t address the needs of agriculture.
“Without an ag worker program, this legislation threatens the viability of fruit and vegetable growers across the country, with significant impact on the entire fresh produce marketing chain,” the United Fresh alert said.
Regelbrugge said the stripping of the provision for seasonal agriculture workers may reduce the likelihood of Senate action on the bill unless there are substantial changes.
With the House in recess until October, it is not known when the full House will take up the Legal Workforce Act, according to a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee.
In a news release, House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the mandatory E-Verify bill will help Americans find jobs.
“The Legal Workforce Act could open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans by requiring employers to use E-Verify,” he said in the release. “It makes no sense to rely on the paper-based, error-prone I-9 system when a successful, Web-based program is available.”