“We needed to make House Bill 56 better ... and we did that,” Bentley said at a press conference Friday, May 18. “There is substantial progress in this bill: burdens on legal residents and businesses are eased, and the goal remains the same – that if you live and work in Alabama, you must do so legally.
Bentley and his legislators worked closely together over the past few months and said that, while not all agreed upon changes were reflected in the new bill, the final product emerged simplified, yet still strong.
When the original bill was passed, Bentley said that he had concerns over some of Sen. Scott Beason’s provisions that he thought violated people’s constitutional rights.
Despite these concerns, opponents say H.B. 658 is nearly identical to its predecessor.
“This so-called ‘reform bill’ is nothing more than window dressing apparently aimed at appeasing the state’s business leaders, even though the majority of small businesses and the state’s farmers will continue to suffer,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a press release Friday.
Bauer said the bill actually makes the original law much worse and that as a resuly of this legislative deision more lawsuits will now be filed against the state.
Olivia Turner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Alabama branch, chided Bentley for authorizing the legislation and expressed hope that courts would strike it down.
“Gov. Bentley had the opportunity to send a message to lawmakers that the racial profiling, discrimination and fear these laws spark must be stopped,” Turner said in an email statement on Friday. “Sadly, he declined.
“We are hopeful the courts will soon overturn these shameful measures once and for all.”
Bentley did reiterate that he doesn’t think the new law fixes all the problems he saw in the old bill, but that he wasn’t going to pass on signing the bill into law.
One of those problems is the school provision included in the original law checking the status of students, according to Bentley.
He also said he disagrees with H.B. 658’s provision to expand the state’s funds to create an illegal immigrant database system that the public will have access to.
In Bentley’s mind, the good of signing the bill outweighed the bad of leaving provisions yet to be changed.
“The bottom line is there are too many positive aspects of House Bill 658 for it to go unsigned, and I don’t want to lose the progress we have made,” Bentley said. “This bill reduces burdens on legal residents as they conduct government transactions … (and) also reduces burdens on businesses while still holding them accountable to hire legal workers.”
In addition to several possible civil rights violations, opponents of the bill point out that it has harmed the state’s economy by driving away farm workers and other laborers and frightening away potential business relocations worried what the law means for any workers they would bring into the state.
Still, Bentley stands behind H.B. 658 as the right move for the state at this time.
“These changes make this a stronger bill,” Bentley said.