E-Verify Bill One Step Closer to Abbott's Desk

The Texas House on Monday gave tentative approval to a bill that would require state agencies and public universities to use the federal electronic employment system called E-Verify.

 Illustration by Todd Wiseman

The Texas House on Monday gave tentative approval to a bill that would require state agencies and public universities to use the federal electronic employment system called E-Verify. 

State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park and the House sponsor of the bill, said it would also clear up some confusion that followed former Gov. Rick Perry's December executive order mandating use of the system, which was designed to prevent the hire of immigrants not authorized to work in the country legally. 

Senate Bill 374 by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, contains provisions similar to those laid out in Perry’s executive order, including one that requires employers to check the legal status of future employees. It got an initial OK from the Texas House with a 96-43 vote on Monday and must be given one final nod by the lower chamber before being sent to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

The measure also specifies that, in accordance with federal guidelines, the system cannot be used to verify the status of current employees, which Perry’s mandate initially required. Perry's office issued a clarification after the order was issued, but Dale said the legislation will clear that up for good.

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“The main issue I had with the executive order is [that] it said you had to use it on all existing employees, which is not appropriate,” Dale said. “Going forward, state agencies will have very specific guidance on what they should and shouldn’t do.”

The Senate bill would only include state agencies, and not companies that contract with them, as Perry’s order specified. The bill also charges the Texas Workforce Commission with enforcing the measure. Perry's order did not direct an agency to make sure the order is being followed.  

Abbot said during his campaign that he supported E-Verify for state agencies but did not mention contractors. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the House vote, but Dale said it would be accurate to report that the governor was supportive of his measure.

Should the bill be given ultimate approval by the House, it would mark the first time that an E-Verify measure has successfully navigated through the state legislative process. 

“I am not surprised that it passed," Dale said. "I had been consulting with members of the Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus in advance of the debate to make people understand my intent with the bill."