DENVER - A top Republican has killed his own bill on an illegal immigration issue that dogged Bill Ritter during his campaign for governor.
The illegal immigration debate, which dominated state politics in 2006, made a one-day encore Thursday. Ritter, coincidentally, addressed the issue that morning for a University of Denver panel that is trying to craft a solution to the problem.
The bill, House Bill 1049 by Rep. Mike May, R-Parker, would have prohibited plea bargains for illegal immigrants in order to avoid deportation. During the 2006 governor's campaign, Republican Bob Beauprez hammered Ritter over his willingness to make plea bargains for "agricultural trespass" as Denver's district attorney. The charge does not require deportation.
The attacks appeared to fail, and Ritter won the election by 16 percentage points.
May pulled the bill because analysts predicted it would cost $2 million to build extra prison space. Just Tuesday, Ritter proposed closing two prisons to cope with the economic crisis.
"The timing is not the best, but the problem is still there. I'll continue to work on this," said May, the House's top Republican.
The House Judiciary Committee killed the bill 11-0 at May's request.
May said he's concerned about felons on the streets. He might come back with a bill this year, if he can rewrite it so it avoids the costs.
"We're two years removed from the campaign. It's not an election year, so I'm thinking it's a good time. Let's close this loophole in the law," May said.
Immigrant advocates were ready to fight the bill, but they never got the chance.
"It's unfortunate that we would be spending time during the legislative session on these political issues," said Julie Gonzales of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Meanwhile, Ritter encouraged the University of Denver panel to take a serious look at comprehensive immigration reform. Its report could be helpful to the new presidential administration and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, he said.
A previous DU panel issued a report on state constitutional reform that influenced many Colorado lawmakers.
Ritter noted several complex considerations when dealing with illegal immigration - the legal requirement to provide emergency health care and education, and moral qualms about breaking up families by deporting people.
Immigrant felons should be jailed in the United States, Ritter said. Deporting them does no good because they quickly slip back across the border, he said.
Any reform policy will have to "bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows," Ritter said.
"The way to do that - my personal opinion - is a guest-worker policy. I think George Bush was right about that," he said.
Bush's immigration bills never passed Congress.
The DU panel will meet twice a month through June and issue its recommendations this fall.