Indiana’s immigration bill discussed by legislators

State lawmakers couldn’t agree on a contentious illegal immigration bill during this year’s legislative session. But some hope legislators on a summer study committee can at least reach common ground on the facts surrounding the complex topic.

Interim study committees are formed to inform lawmakers about issues between legislative sessions, and can lead to recommendations for future bills.

The immigration panel, however, may have a harder time reaching consensus than most study committees.

One of the committee’s member is Rep. Mara Candalaria Reardon, a Democrat from Munster who is the only Hispanic member of the House.

The committee will be co-chaired by Republican Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn and Democratic Rep. Scott Pelath of Michigan City.

The House and Senate both passed versions of an immigration bill last session that would have created a three-tier punishment system for companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants after 2009. After three incidents, companies could have their business licenses suspended or revoked.

Pelath said the Senate should agree with the House version rather than try to strike a new compromise, but Senate leaders resisted and the issue was not revived before the session ended.

The study committee, on the other hand, may give lawmakers a more objective look at the issue.

Kruse said he hopes the committee will examine the costs of illegal immigration to Hoosier taxpayers — including the price of health care, education, welfare and crime.

Nevertheless, the impact of illegal immigration isn’t all negative, said Mary Jane Gonzalez, with the Indiana State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She said the committee should also look at the economic benefits from illegal immigrants in the work force.

“Any time you’re doing a study, it’s about the economic balance sheet,” Gonzalez said.

Pelath said the committee should examine the role of businesses that offer illegal immigrants low-wage jobs in Indiana.

“We cannot discuss one side of this issue without taking the time to look at the other,” he said.