DES MOINES — Two Republican senators are advancing a bill that would require every Iowa business — even businesses with just one employee — to use the federal E-verify system to check the citizenship status of prospective workers.

Businesses caught “knowingly” employing an “unauthorized alien” would lose any license or permit to operate in the state. Republican Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola patterned the proposal after an Arizona law.

“It’s really a pretty simple approach, I thought,” Garrett said Wednesday during a senate subcommittee hearing on the bill.

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said it’s time for states to act because the federal government isn’t.

“Unfortunately regardless of who controls what, it seems they are inept, they are incoherent and they are irrelevant with our daily lives,” Schultz said. “I’m kind of down with the federal government, so I think it’s down with the states to protect ourselves.”

The Iowa Chamber Alliance, representing the 16 largest chambers of commerce and economic development groups in Iowa, opposes the bill. John Stineman, the group’s executive director, told senators the E-Verify system is “wildly inaccurate.”

“We have audits that have been done in 2015/2016 that have showed the error instance can be as high as 54 percent in the E-Verify system,” Stineman said.

Senator Garrett responded: “I find that just astounding, quite frankly…The research I’ve done, the error rate is minuscule.”

Dave Stitz, a vice president at the McAninch Corporation, said his construction firm has used the E-Verify system voluntarily for 12 years for all prospective employees.

“It’s very simple to use,” Stitz said. “It takes us probably a minute-and-a-half to use the process online.”

Stitz told lawmakers he’d gladly hire “non-U-S citizens.”

“We look for non-Iowa people harder than what we do Iowans because the work ethic seems to be better,” Stitz said. “…Obviously, they should be taxpaying citizens like all of us, so let’s just get them in the mix and make them legal. That’s my personal opinion.”

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry raised concerns the bill might prompt a statewide hiring freeze if businesses can’t check the E-Verify system because of another federal government shutdown.

Garrett’s bill is now eligible for debate in the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

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