While the Legislature’s fight over the budget and the brief State Government shutdown captured the headlines, MeBIC followed several bills affecting Maine’s immigrants and their employers. Here’s a brief recap.
- LD 1492: An Act to Attract, Educate and Retain New Mainers to Strengthen the Workforce
SUMMARY: This bill would increase funding for English as a Second Language classes offered by school districts’ adult education centers, in order to eliminate waiting lists for classes, and to expand the classes offered in communities experiencing an increase in immigrant residents. It also would: provide funding for contextualized English classes combined with job training at worksites; fund expansion from Portland into Lewiston-Auburn of the New Mainers Resource Center, which helps professional level immigrants integrate; and would provide small planning grants to communities experiencing growth in their immigrant populations.
MeBIC’s POSITION: SUPPORTED. Several of MeBIC’s Board members were involved in crafting this bill. MeBIC lobbied for LD 1492 and testified in its favor, as did several of MeBIC’s Partner Organizations.
OUTCOME: The bill emerged from Committee with strong bipartisan support. However, due to the contentious budget battle, the bill was carried over until 2018, to avoid falling victim to funding issues.
- LD 1307: An Act To Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents
SUMMARY: In its initial iteration, this bill would have required all Maine employers to enroll in the federal E-Verify computer system to confirm employees’ legal eligibility to work, but also would have required E-Verify’s use in an unlawful, discriminatory, fashion. MeBIC pointed out this enormous problem to the committee’s legal analyst, who concurred. The original version was subsequently withdrawn and replaced with language requiring all public employers in the state and all of their contractors or subcontractors to use E-Verify.
MeBIC’s POSITION: OPPOSED. MeBIC actively lobbied against LD 1307. E-Verify is time consuming and costly to implement, particularly for small businesses without dedicated HR staff or those with large seasonal increases in employees (despite the fact that enrollment and use of the web platform is free). E-Verify also returns a worrisome percentage of erroneous “tentative non-confirmations” of legal employment eligibility. Efforts to mandate use of E-Verify by all employers nationally have consistently failed in Congress due to its flaws. E-Verify in its current form should not be mandated in Maine.
OUTCOME: LD 1307 was defeated.
- Biennial Budget: Retention of General Assistance Funds Availability for Immigrants Applying for Permanent Status in the U.S.
SUMMARY: General Assistance (G.A.) provides safety net subsistence level support for those who have nowhere else to turn. Since 2015, it has been available to noncitizens who are legally here and seeking permanent status in the U.S., such as asylum seekers, for a maximum of 24 months. Asylum seekers cannot get authorization to work under federal law until their asylum applications have been in process with the U.S. government for at least 180 days, and they are ineligible for federal means-tested benefits. G.A. helps asylum seekers, who are not sponsored by any agency, survive and remain in Maine while awaiting their work permits. With Maine’s declining population, investing in supporting asylum seekers in the short term, so that they can be part of our workforce and our communities in the long term, is an investment in strengthening Maine’s economy.
MeBIC’s POSITION: Several individual businesses wanted to make the case at the State House that retaining limited G.A. eligibility for asylum seekers and others on the path to permanent immigration status is a smart investment in Maine’s economy. MeBIC’s Director supported their efforts, and also provided talking points to several Republican and Democratic legislators who requested them, making the economic case for G.A.
OUTCOME: G.A. eligibility for immigrants was retained in the approved biennium budget.