Legislative update: Sen. Zach Whiting highlights E-Verify, religious liberty bills

Legislative update: Sen. Zach Whiting highlights E-Verify, religious liberty bills

District 1 State Senator Zach Whiting has had a busy session up to this point of his first term.

Whiting (R-Spirit Lake) sponsored and co-sponsored numerous bills and other pieces of legislation. Several of those survived last week’s legislative funnel that requires measures be reported out of committee if they are to be voted on by the Senate this year.

The Signal spoke with Whiting about a few of the bills he was an original co-sponsor of that moved past the funnel.

SF 516: Would require all employers to check employment eligibility of hires using E-Verify

Whiting was a co-sponsor of a bill that would require all employers to check that their hires are authorized to work in the United States using the E-Verify system.

“That’s been a priority for some groups to try to get a handle on the flow of illegal immigration,” Whiting said.

Whiting said the federal government isn’t doing much of anything to stem illegal immigration.

“The federal government is clearly not acting on immigration issues, not solving these problems,” Whiting said. “And so, while those issues generally are in the province of the federal government, this is one area where the state can act to ensure that employers are not hiring people that are not legally authorized to be and work in the United States. That’s why I decided to throw my name on it.”

Unde the bill, SF 516, an employer found to be employing a person unauthorized to be working in the country would be required to terminate any unauthorized employees. The employer would then have to submit an affidavit confirming that the unauthorized employees were fired and that the employer will not knowingly hire an unauthorized employee in the future.

Failure to comply with that stipulation would result in loss of state licenses held by the employer.

Whiting said has not heard from any constituents with concerns this bill may have on businesses ability to hire workers.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry is “undecided” on whether it supports the bill.

SF 508: Would provide claim or defense when state action burdens a person’s exercise of religion

Another bill Whiting co-sponsored would apply to the standard of judicial review when the state takes action that is seen as burdening a person’s exercise of religion.

“It’s a matter of respecting and protecting religious liberty,” Whiting said.

SF 508, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would allow a person who believes their exercise of religion has been burdened by state action to use that as a claim or defense in a court proceeding.

The bill states a court must not allow a state action to “substantially” burden someone’s exercise of religion unless it can be shown that the action is the least restrictive way to further “a compelling governmental interest.”

“It’s not at all about discriminating against anyone or any particular viewpoints,” Whiting said. “But it is about respecting the rights and abilities of people who have religious concerns or objections from participating in something.”

Whiting said the primary example of this is the example of the wedding cake baker who refused service to two homosexual males wishing to have a cake baked and decorated for their wedding.

“If the law of the land is that gay marriage is legal, then you have the right to gay marriage, but you don’t have a right to a gay wedding cake,” Whiting said. “And so if you want to have somebody make that for you, you should not force someone who has an objection to participating in any degree in the ceremony or anything along the way and simply find another vendor to do it.”

Whiting said there is “rhetoric” out their stating how this will have a negative impact on the state’s business economy should the law pass.

“I don’t think that is true,” Whiting said.

“Really what it comes down to is how do we respect the ability and right of Iowans who have deeply held religious beliefs and make sure that those are protected and that they’re not coerced into doing some sort of activity, that they’re not forced into commerce, against their own religious beliefs” Whiting said.

SF 588: Death penalty for murder involving kidnapping and sexual abuse of a minor

Whiting also co-sponsored an earlier version of SF 588, a bill that would make first-degree murders of minors that involved kidnapping and sexual abuse offenses punishable by death.

A similar measure was introduced last year, but this time around, the original bill had many more co-sponsors.

Whiting has stated he supports reinstating the death penalty in certain cases.

The Des Moines Register polled Iowans on the issue of capital punishment in 2006, finding 66 in favor and 29 percent opposed to reinstating the death penalty for specific crimes.

Iowa’s last execution was in 1963.

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