Senate passes bill prohibiting citizenship- or immigration-based discrimination

The Washington state Senate passed a bill Feb. 26 adding citizenship or immigration status to the “law against discrimination,” with 29 in favor and 20 opposed.

The law currently prohibits discrimination against individuals based on race, creed, color, national origin, families with children, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, veteran status or disability.

The bill does not differentiate immigration or citizenship status from the areas in which groups are protected from discrimination. These areas include the right to employment, real estate transactions, credit transactions, and insurance transactions.

Prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5165, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D- Seattle, proposed an amendment to the bill, which passed. The amendment changed the wording from “required” to “authorized” in regards to federal or state law, regulation, or government contract that creates an exemption to the bill, a small clarification.

This clarifies that immigrants or noncitizens may be denied certain things when authorized by federal law- not required.

Senator Doug Ericksen, R- Ferndale, proposed an amendment that did not pass, requiring all employers with more than 15 employees to enroll in the federal work authorization program “e-verify,” that verifies if employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.

Ericksen’s amendment failed because of concern over the fact it would drastically increase to number of businesses required to verify if their employees are authorized to work in the U.S. Currently, businesses are only required to use e-verify on the federal level with no Washington state laws requiring verification.

The bill does give precedent to federal regulations based on immigration and citizenship status. This means that federal prohibitions on hiring illegal immigrants and similar laws still apply but under the proposed bill it would be illegal to discriminate against illegal immigrants if they are otherwise engaging in lawful behavior.

Senator Maureen Walsh, R- Walla Walla, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying, “you can’t legislate discrimination.” She, along with every other Republican senator, voted against the bill.

The bill moves to House of Representatives and is not yet scheduled for a committee hearing.

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