Farmworker Bill Clears First Hurdle in House

It ran into stiff opposition from immigrant and worker rights groups, but on a vote of 7-4, the House state affairs committee approved a bill meant to expedite the process of getting temporary agricultural workers to Colorado farms. Despite the elimination of some key provisions, a controversial bill to help Colorado farmers get legal workers from Mexico passed its first legislative test Tuesday.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 7-4 in approval of House Bill 1325, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan. The bill calls for state agents to help farmers get temporary workers through the federal H-2A visa program. Agents here and in Mexico would “baby-sit” farmers’ applications through the sluggish federal approval process and link Colorado growers with Mexican workers.

“We need about 10,000 agricultural workers, and right now we are facing critical shortages of these workers,” said Looper as she urged her colleagues to support the bill. “I believe if we do not assist our farmers in accessing a dependable and reliable work force, we will become dependent on food from foreign countries.”

HB 1325 moves on to the House Appropriations Committee without two provisions that had been the subject of much of the testimony against the bill. Initially the measure called for requesting a waiver from the federal government to take over certain parts of the H-2A processing, but the question of whether a waiver would conflict with federal statutes led Looper to drop the provision from the bill.

Also eliminated from HB 1325 was language calling for up to 20 percent of workers pay to be withheld until it could be confirmed that they returned to Mexico. Immigrant and worker rights groups ardently objected to this provision, which was also questionable in its relationship to federal law.

Looper says that her bill is not the whole solution for the state’s shortage of agricultural workers, but it is a measure of support for the state’s 37,000 farmers, and it sends a message to the federal government about the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform.

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Kate Bernuth

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