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Arizona Chamber stayed neutral, removing a big roadblock

Sen. Russell Pearce’s battles with Arizona’s business community over immigration policy have become legendary, but the Mesa Republican this year secured a ceasefire with the state’s largest business association by agreeing to remove one of the five major components that were originally included in S1070.

In fact, an early amendment to the bill erased a section that would have given county attorneys the power to subpoena the records of businesses suspected of employing illegal immigrants. In exchange, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry agreed to stand aside, rather than oppose the multi-faceted immigration measure.

As the largest business association in the state, the Arizona Chamber has considerable lobbying power. Even though Pearce was unable to gain the group’s support, he neutralized an influential opponent that otherwise would have used its lobbying efforts to convince lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Although it’s unclear whether business interests, acting alone, could have killed S1070, the Arizona Chamber is closely aligned with a handful of state senators who could have shattered the fragile Republican majority in that chamber. All 12 Democrats in the Senate had lined up against the bill, which meant that three opposition votes from Republicans would have kept the bill from advancing.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber, said the smart move this year was to seek changes to the bill rather than oppose it. By removing the provisions that would have caused the most problems for businesses, Hamer averted another confrontation with Pearce that would have further damaged relationships within the Republican Party.

The last major conflict between Pearce and the business community surfaced in 2007 when Pearce introduced a bill to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. Pearce ultimately succeeded in getting the bill passed, but the bitter feud fractured the GOP and left businesses loathing the employer sanctions law.

This year, Gov. Jan Brewer signaled that she supports S1070, which was another reason the Arizona Chamber decided to stand aside. With the governor on board, and in an election year, Hamer was concerned the bill would have passed even with opposition by business interests.

“We’ve had considerable interaction with immigration bills in the past, to put it mildly, and we had serious concerns about the subpoena power this bill originally contained,” Hamer said. “If we didn’t take this approach, there would be a bill sitting on the governor’s desk that would have created all sorts of new problems for businesses playing by the rules.”

Pearce ultimately agreed to two separate amendments to appease the business community. In addition to removing the subpoena power, he loosened a set of new E-verify requirements on businesses.
From that point forward, arguments from the business bloc took a backseat, allowing the bill to move unimpeded through the Legislature.

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