Covering Louisiana

Oct 15, 2011 4:01 PM by Chris Welty

Companies Challenge LA Citizenship Check

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A contractors group is warning a new
Louisiana law requiring companies seeking public contracts to
verify the citizenship of their employees could wreak havoc in
public contracting.
The Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/rrxEW5) Louisiana
Associated General Contractors is challenging the law in a lawsuit
filed against the state.
The group contends the statute is at odds with federal law and
breeds confusion over who can and cannot bid on government
contracts.
The law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, requires companies
seeking public contracts to certify they have registered with and
use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether their
employees are citizens or legal immigrants.
The lawsuit was filed this past Tuesday in state District Court
in Baton Rouge.
The lawsuit says an employer must enter into a memorandum of
understanding with the federal Department of Homeland Security in
order to take part in the E-Verify program.
The memorandum requires an employer to use the program for
verification of all employees hired after the employer enrolls in
the E-Verify system, the suit states.
"If interpreted to require verification . of all employees -
and not just new employees hired after the employer executes the
MOU - Act 376 will produce the absurd result of requiring employers
to breach the MOU in order to comply with the verification
requirements of the act," the suit contends.
"It has the potential to create havoc in public contracting,"
the suit adds. "It may have an adverse effect on competition and
bid prices."
Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal, said there is
"strong legal standing on this law."
"It makes sense to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not going
to illegal immigrants," Plotkin said.
"We're always happy though to work with contractors to make
sure contracts are not arbitrarily cancelled," he added.
Ken Naquin, chief executive of the contractors association, said
the group is seeking clarification from the courts.
"The law does conflict with federal rules," he said. "We
can't comply with the state statute and be in compliance with the
federal rules."
Naquin said Act 376 makes reference to "all employees."
However, the MOU required in the E-Verify program mandates that
an employer "will not verify employees hired before the effective
date of this MOU," the suit states.
"You can't E-Verify current employees," Naquin said.
"It is a confusing issue," he said.
The suit seeks a judicial declaration that Act 376 "should be
interpreted and applied to require the use of E-Verify only for all
employees hired after the employer signs the MOU."
The LAGC also complains about the act's penalty provision, which
says those found in noncompliance could face cancellation of a
contract and be banned from eligibility for future public contracts
for up to three years.
"It's a very severe penalty," attorney Russel Wray said.
The suit contends the act's sanction provision conflicts with
and is pre-empted by federal law.
The suit has been assigned to state District Judge Mike
Caldwell.
E-Verify is mandated by the Illegal Immigration Reform and
Immigration Information Act of 1996. It is an Internet-based system
to confirm the legal status of newly hired employees.

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