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Commission explores using E-Verify program to screen future Hernando County employees

BROOKSVILLE — To ensure that future county employees are legal U.S. residents, the County Commission on Tuesday decided to explore a new employment verification tool called E-Verify, offered through the federal government.

Francine Hill of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security explained how the electronic system, which is based on information shared between her agency and the Social Security Administration, would in most cases be able to tell the county almost immediately if a new employee was eligible to work.

The county's purchasing and human resource directors voiced concern that adopting the new system could cost more because someone would have to be responsible for making the special checks. Commission Chairman John Druzbick said he wanted more information on that before a formal vote.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins was concerned that the system of checking an employee's eligibility seemed like more of a labor issue than a homeland security issue and he questioned what the county should do about employees not cleared for employment.

"I don't see a logical connection here,'' he said. "Do you compare them to the (terrorist) watch list?''

Hill explained the system was only designed to verify employment eligibility, not give the immigration status of an individual.

Commissioner Dave Russell questioned whether the program wasn't repeating processes Hernando already does through other forms new employees must complete.

Stabins said something seemed missing from the process.

"It seems to me this program is a typical Washington Band-Aid solution to a problem that requires a tourniquet,'' he said.

Commissioners could not vote on the E-Verify system Tuesday because the meeting was a workshop. But after hearing from Hillsborough County human resources director George Williams, they said they were interested in finding out more about E-Verify.

In Hillsborough, Williams said, the county has gone through additional steps for a more detailed program to become "IMAGE certified." That expanded arrangement partners the county with the law enforcement aspect of Homeland Security to deal with potential workers who are not accepted as employment eligible.

Williams warned that implementation of the expanded program was complex, but he said he had been driven to make the program work because he didn't want to see a terrorist foul Hillsborough's water supply because the county hadn't done enough to screen its workers.

"Not on my watch,'' he told commissioners.

Hernando commissioners also were interested in using whatever tools Hillsborough might be devising to make sure county employees as well as county vendors verify employability.

Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton promised to work with Hillsborough County officials and the E-Verify program to bring back more information to commissioners for further discussion at their April workshop.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Commission explores using E-Verify program to screen future Hernando County employees 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 6:25pm]
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