States Would Be Able to Issue Their Own Worker Visas Under New Congressional Proposal

Utah needs seasonal workers for their agriculture industry.

Utah needs seasonal workers for their agriculture industry. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Bill to increase the minimum wage advances in Pennsylvania … Baltimore city council members call for crime plan … San Diego cracks down on massage parlors.

States would be able to issue their own visas to immigrant workers under a proposal introduced in the U.S. House this week. The legislation would give states the option to participate in the new program, allowing them to create three-year visas customized to the state’s economic needs. States would be incentivized with additional visa allotments if they encourage neighboring states to enter into interstate contracts. Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis wrote the proposal, which he said would fix a broken immigration system by allowing states to implement visa programs designed for their local industries, while also allowing immigrant workers to move between states in some cases. “While every state is unique, neighboring states share commonalities that don’t end at lines on a map. We see this in the West, particularly in the agriculture and tourism sectors, where some seasonal operations stretch across multiple states,” Curtis said. His proposal is supported by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who said that the benefits of the bill are obvious because the state’s unemployment rate stands at 2.8%. “We need high-skilled immigrants working for our tech companies and in our educational institutions, and seasonal workers in our tourism and agriculture industries. We simply don’t have enough workers to fill the jobs. As a governor, I would jump at the opportunity to design a work visa program that would allow Utah to sponsor the migrant workers, investors, and entrepreneurs we need,” he said. Herbert, a Republican, also recently sent a letter to President Trump asking that more refugees be resettled in Utah because the state has the resources to support them. In 2011, Utah created its own guest-worker visa program, but later repealed it because the federal government never gave the state the waiver needed to implement the program. [Salt Lake Tribune; Utah Policy]

MINIMUM WAGE | A bill to raise Pennsylvani’s minimum wage for the first time in a decade has advanced out of committee in the state Senate. The legislation would gradually raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.50 per hour by 2022. "Waiting ten years for a minimum wage increase is too long. The public overwhelmingly supports raising the wage and it's time for Harrisburg to listen. The legislature must stand with workers and raise Pennsylvania's minimum wage," said Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who originally proposed raising the wage to $15 per hour. A spokeswoman for Senate Republican leaders said that the more modest wage increase was fair, and that they expect to vote on the issue this week. Labor activists expressed disappointment with the proposal, which would also prevent cities from surpassing the statewide minimum wage. Some Democrats, including state Sen. Christine Tartaglione, are also disappointed. “I’m not happy about $9.50. But I can’t say no to those individuals making $7.25 an hour,” she said. [Philadelphia Tribune; Patch.com; Philadelphia Inquirer]

CRIME PLAN | Members of the Baltimore City Council are calling on Mayor Jack Young to develop a comprehensive crime plan to address violence in the city. Led by Council President Brandon Scott, the group wants the mayor to work with city agencies like the health department and the housing authority. “We have many city agencies, and every single city agency must work toward reducing violence in Baltimore City. What we need right now is a sense of urgency from all agencies, police included. We need to focus on violent, repeat offenders and flow of guns,” Scott said. Last week, Baltimore marked its 300th homicide of the year. Young has already released a crime plan with the police, which Commissioner Michael Harrison said is sufficient. “I was in direct contact with the mayor and with the mayor’s staff in making sure everything that went into the crime plan was something we as a city wanted to do needed to do and could do,” Harrison said. City council members say they plan to work on legislation to force a new, broader plan forward. [Baltimore Sun; CBS Baltimore]

MASSAGE PARLORS | The San Diego City Council passed legislation that will require massage businesses to obtain an operating permit from the police department. Part of the permit process will include a background check into business owners to ensure they were not shut down in a different city. Councilmember Chris Cate, who sponsored the measure, said it is an attempt to crack down on illegal operating practices. “We understand a lot of the people that are there are victims and we want to make sure we're offering them resources they need to get out of this industry,” he said. San Diego police officers went undercover 87 times last year to investigate local massage parlors. They issued citations for prostitution during 50 visits, and citations for innapropriate touching or revealing clothing during another 20 visits. Some independent massage therapists have expressed disappointment with the new guidelines because the permit process comes with a $124 fee. [CBS San Diego

NEVADA LAWYERS | A judge in Nevada ruled that the Legislative Counsel Bureau cannot represent state lawmakers when they sue each other. The LCB, which represent all members of the state legislature, is defending Democratic lawmakers in a lawsuit brought by Republicans, who accused them of passing an unconstitutional extension to a state payroll tax that was ending. Republicans argued that any measure that creates public revenue requires a two-thirds majority vote. Democrats contend that they could extend the tax with a simple majority vote. Attorneys with LCB said that they should be allowed to represent Democratic legislators in the suit, but Judge James Russell disagreed. “LCB in my opinion has always been very neutral. I think LCB can remain in the case … I just think you shouldn’t be in the middle, representing one state senator against another,” he said. [Reno Gazette Journal; Nevada Appeal]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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