With one week left in California's legislative session, the last-hour "gut and amend" cycle has begun. That's the infamous practice where legislators delete the text of an existing bill and replace it with something entirely new and unrelated.
One example is the gut and amend of Senate Bill 901 by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar. Originally, this was a bill by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, to reduce air pollution with a vehicle retirement program.
Now, with Steinberg's support, SB 901 has morphed into the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act. It would create a five-year pilot program for workers who are in the United States illegally and cannot get Social Security numbers but who have worked in California since 2008 and pay taxes with a federal Individual Tax Information Number, or ITIN, assigned to foreigners who work in the United States.
The aim of the bill is to allow those in this proposed 2013-18 California-only program to be exempt from "apprehension, detention or removal" by the federal government.
As well-intentioned as this measure is, it is a very bad idea giving false hope to employers and workers who are desperate for national immigration reform.
In reality, setting up a California-only program for taxpaying foreign workers, with the California Department of Justice giving participants a one-year renewable "confirmation of admission," provides no protection from deportation here or anywhere else in the United States nor does it protect employers who hire unauthorized migrants in violation of federal law.
Such a one-state program depends on California's governor getting authorization from the federal government. In fact, the bill specifically directs the governor to seek "waivers, exemptions or authorizations" to provide a "safe harbor" for individuals and businesses if they participate in California's one-state program.
Yet there is no process or law that allows the federal government to transfer authority to the states to grant permission to people to work and remain legally in individual states whether California or any other state.
And that's for good reason. The United States cannot have each state submitting individual requests to the president for particular immigration programs that apply only to that state. Under the U.S. Constitution, immigration policy is the exclusive province of the federal government and must be decided by Congress and the president for the nation as a whole.
Fuentes estimates that about 1 million foreign workers already pay state income taxes with an ITIN. He hopes the bill will encourage another million who work under the table to sign up. To be eligible, they must consent to background checks, speak or take classes in English, and not be felons or suspected terrorists.
This gut and amend bill comes after a proposed ballot initiative filed last December, also called the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act, failed to submit signatures by the July 2 deadline to get on the November ballot.
That measure was co-sponsored by Fuentes and John Cruz, a Republican former appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The campaign was run by Mike Madrid, a former political director of the state Republican Party.
Bipartisan frustration in the states is understandable. Congress has failed to act on immigration. But lurching toward a patchwork of opposing immigration laws in each of the 50 states is not the answer.
Legislators should reject SB 901 and if they do not, Gov. Jerry Brown should veto it.