ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers are trying again to prohibit undocumented workers from taking jobs under Maryland state contracts.
This year, Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, is the lead Senate sponsor on a bill calling for Maryland to adopt the federal E-Verify system.
E-Verify is a free "Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States," according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Shank's bill would keep state money from paying for work performed by illegal immigrants, although contracts and grants of less than a certain dollar amount would be exempted.
Along with Shank, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County, presented a similar bill to require E-Verify for any hiring done through a state contract or grant.
A joint hearing on the bills Thursday in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee brought out supporters frustrated with undocumented workers taking jobs and detractors worried about pitfalls in the verification system.
Some said they or their families have lost work to illegal immigrants who were paid less money.
Michael Taylor of Dundalk, Md., an electrician, said he has been without a job for close to 15 months.
"If you want a picture of a struggling American, look at me" he told the committee.
He said he knew of one project in which workers were paid less in a day than the state's minimum wage requires for an hour.
In an interview, Taylor said his difficulty finding work, even menial jobs, is probably due to a combination of issues affecting the economy, but the ease of getting illegal immigrant labor is part of it.
Opponents raised questions about damage caused by mistakes in the E-Verify system.
However, Shank testified that the error rate can be as low as 0.3 percent, according to a December 10 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The report, available online, said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has improved the system in the last few years.
Immediate confirmation of employees was 97.4 percent in fiscal 2009, up from 92 percent a few years earlier.
"However, E-Verify errors persist," the report said, noting that foreign-born employees' names are more likely to create problems.
After testifying against the bill, Debra Gardner of the nonprofit Public Justice Center said in an interview that women are more likely to change their names during their lives, particularly through marriage, and are disproportionately affected by E-Verify.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, questioned why an E-Verify system would be imposed when the economy is struggling.
Shank replied that the system is needed to give legal workers a fair chance.
Otherwise, "we're depressing wage rates," he said.
Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, are co-sponsors of a House version of the bill.
Shank has been a co-sponsor in the past as a delegate.
His predecessor as a senator, Republican Donald F. Munson, was a co-sponsor last year.