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Illegal aliens vote?
They better not if Hammon has his way, but some insist his bill is not really necessary

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A local Republican lawmaker's bill to punish illegal immigrants who try to vote in state elections cleared a House committee Wednesday — but only after a top Democrat vowed to stop it.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said his HB 291 would set criminal penalties for illegal immigrants to who vote or try to vote, and for people who assist them. He said registrars in his district alerted him to the problem, telling him employers sometimes send immigrants to "bloc vote."

Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, the House majority leader, abstained from the 7-3 vote by the House Constitution and Elections Committee. But Guin promised to take care of the bill in the Rules Committee. He chairs that committee, which picks bills for the House calendar each day.

Guin accused Hammon of using the issue for publicity purposes.

"I don't see the purpose of this bill," Guin said. "This is just a PR move."

Hammon said illegal immigration needs to be publicized and at one point accused Guin, a lawyer, of trying to "cross-examine me."

Critics of the bill, particularly advocates for immigrants, argued that its criminal penalties duplicate penalties in existing law that include jail time and fines for violators. Critics also argue that the bill is soft on the employers or others who try to help illegals vote.

Hammon said employers who send illegal immigrant employees to vote "are buying votes."

He acknowledged that the law already provides criminal penalties for people who vote illegally or help someone else do so, but said people need to know the problem exists. Media scrutiny helps call attention to the problem, he said.

Alabama Appleseed legal advocate John Pickens and Helen Rivas of the Latinos Unidos de Alabama advocacy group disagree with Hammon.

Pickens said he considers the bill punitive. Voting fraud is already a felony, he said.

Rivas also disputed Hammon's contention about ballot stuffing.

"It is hard for me to believe that people who are already terrified of being detected are stuffing the ballot boxes using this method," she said.

"How come Mr. Hammon did not tattle on the business owners?"

Hammon countered that the bill includes penalties for people who aid illegal immigrants who attempt to vote.

Voting against the bill were Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham; and Rep. Tommy Sherer, D-Jasper.

The bill now goes to the full House — if the Rules Committee puts it on the calendar.

The House Public Safety Committee already sent another bill in Hammon's six-bill illegal immigration package to a subcommittee for more work. HB 289 would allow law enforcement officers to impound vehicles of immigrant drivers who do not have vehicle insurance and proof that they are in the country legally.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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