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Confusion reigns, but Berne in compliance

October 25, 2011

Berne City Attorney Bob Biberstein

    Berne City Council members took steps on Monday evening to be in compliance with a new state law.
    Even if they weren't sure exactly what the law requires. Or what it means? Or why it's necessary. Or how it's going to affect the city going forward.
    In an attempt to crack down on work performed in Indiana by undocumented, illegal immigrants, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law during its last session that requires that governmental subdivisions take action to ensure that workers performing contracted services on behalf of cities and towns are U.S. citizens or have entered the country legally. The law took affect July 1.
    Under its hazy provisions, cities and towns must require any firm or individual providing contracted services to enroll in the federal E-Verify program, which documents the status of all workers.
    While the Berne lawmakers were anxious to comply with the new state law — for little reason other than they had no choice — no one was exactly sure how that was to be achieved. Was an ordinance necessary? Or a resolution? Was a simple show of hands sufficient?
    City Attorney Bob Biberstein initially suggested that an ordinance be adopted, but after a lengthy discussion the council determined that a simple "vote of formal compliance" would suffice.
    But the questions still lingered.
    "This law is seemingly all-inclusive, in that it affects anyone we have a contract with," said Biberstein. "To me, it applies to anyone performing contractual-type services for the city. But it's not been tested in court, and has not otherwise been defined."
    To be in compliance with the law, forms must be sent each potential contractor wishing to do work for the city. Those forms must be completed and returned to the city, after the vendor completes the E-Verify program.
    Biberstein said his interpretation of the law is that city agreements with local individuals for seemingly innocent services, such as putting up Christmas lights in the city, could be required to enroll in the government verification program.
    Clerk-treasurer Gwen Maller urged council not to take the matter lightly.
    "This is a big deal," said Maller. "It took me all afternoon to go online and sign up for the E-Verify program. I can see some services being stopped because of this. The smaller companies and the individuals we contract with for some services just aren't going to do it."
    With reservations, the Berne council dutifully agreed in a 5-0 vote near the end of Monday's brief meeting to comply with state law. Whatever it is. For better or worse.

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