HELENA — The state Senate moved forward with a plan Monday that would penalize companies that hire workers who live and work in the U.S. illegally.
Under House Bill 297, if a business is caught employing workers who are in the U.S. illegally, the business would be forced to fire those employees. If it fails to do so, the entity would lose its business license.
The bill's opponents said the measure would hurt Montana businesses. Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, warned that companies will "get slapped down by their competition" if the bill becomes law.
The Senate endorsed the measure Monday in an initial party-line vote. It must pass a final vote before moving to Gov. Steve Bullock's office.
The state House previously approved the bill.
It is one of two Republican measures this session aimed at instituting tighter regulations on illegal immigration.
The other, House Bill 50, would have prohibited local governments from establishing policies that say they won't enforce federal illegal immigration laws, but Bullock vetoed it.
Both measures are sponsored by Republican Rep. David Howard, of Park City.
Earlier this year, District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock, of Helena, declined to block a voter-approved law that would require a person to provide proof of citizenship or legal standing to receive state services.
He said that it was unreasonable for people to expect to receive state benefits without showing proof that they are eligible for those benefits.
However, Sherlock blocked enforcement of the law's definition of "illegal alien" as a person who is not a citizen of the U.S. or remains unlawfully in the U.S.
Sherlock said there are circumstances in which an individual can enter the country illegally but remain lawfully.
The lawsuit challenging the initiative is still pending.