In a year, construction industry employers in Pennsylvania will be required to verify an employee’s legal status to work in the United States through a federal database called E-Verify. Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday that he’ll let the bill become law. It passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly and takes effect in a year. The state already requires E-Verify to be used on publicly funded construction projects that exceed $25,000.

Under the new law, construction industry employers will be required to check an employee’s records in E-Verify. Employers are prohibited from knowingly employing someone who isn’t legally permitted to work in the United States, and a court could order a business’s license suspended for a second violation.

"That is a real problem because it creates an unlevel playing field for wages, for businesses, and also has a detrimental effect on government" said Lehigh state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, a Republican who introduced the bill. The bill is co-sponsored by state Rep. John Galloway, a Democrat from Bucks County.

When the bill is signed into law, employers who skip the E-Verify step and hire unauthorized workers would be forced to terminate them and send reports on new hires to the state’s labor department. It does not specifically require employers to retroactively check existing employees, but there is a mechanism for someone to file a complaint that would investigate an employee’s immigration status.

Supporters of the law say employers who hire unauthorized workers often pay them lower wages off the books, giving companies an unfair advantage over contractors who follow the law, especially when businesses are competing for work during the bidding process.

Construction companies with state contracts in Pennsylvania are already required to E-Verify new hires. HB 1170 would make that the law statewide for the entire industry.

This isn’t anti-immigrant. It’s pro-worker. It’s pro-business,” said Frank Sirianni, President of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents more than 130,000 construction workers in the state.

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Updated: Tue, Oct 22nd 2019 @ 12:50pm EDT