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Ohio bill mandating E-Verify use gets backing from both sides in House

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A bill requiring various Ohio businesses to verify their workers' eligibility through an online federal tool is closer to becoming law.

Ohio House lawmakers voted Wednesday to pass the E-Verify proposal. The system, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, matches someone's I-9 document with other government records—like visas—to confirm they are legally cleared to work in the U.S.

House Bill 327 would mandate E-Verify use for all public works contractors, all nonresidential construction contractors and any other business with 75 or more workers on their payroll in Ohio.

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The bill’s Republican sponsors, including Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne County), have said it’s one way the state can address illegal immigration at the country’s Southern border, an issue that is generally under the federal government's policy purview.

“We don’t have a whole lot of abilities, but we have this, and if we don’t take advantage of this then we are deciding as a state to do nothing,” Wiggam said in a committee hearing. “Every state’s a border state right now.”

Only four Democrats—and two Republicans—voted Wednesday against sending the proposal to the Senate. Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) said she believes it could hold bad businesses accountable, calling out some in the construction sector.

“They take advantage of these workers, using the threat of revealing their status as a wedge to pay them in cash and below minimum wage,” McNally said on the floor. “It creates a huge power imbalance between the exploited worker and the employer, who can secure more contracts at lower costs and further enrich themselves.”

But some trade associations have argued it unfairly targets contractors assigned to public works and nonresidential projects. Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan said it comes with little evidence.

“There seems to be a willingness to conduct this experiment on the back of the highway construction industry and the commercial building construction industry in the state of Ohio,” Runyan said. “What are they going to find out? I'm thinking that they're not going to find out much of anything, because our workforce is largely a union workforce.”

U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) is one of several members of Congress backing a federal effort to mandate the tool nationwide that was introduced Thursday.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.