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The Yakima City Council decided at Tuesday’s meeting to get rid of a 2011 resolution that required businesses contracting with the city to use E-Verify to screen the background of their workers.

E-Verify is a free, federal electronic employment verification program that aims to ensure that employers only hire legal employees.

But concerns surfaced in recent years that requiring E-Verify places an unnecessary burden on local small businesses, which have to spend time and money training staff to use the program.

The council voted 4-3 to get rid of the requirement , with members Carmen Mendez, Jason White, Kathy Coffey and Dulce Gutierrez voting in favor. Council members Brad Hill, Kay Funk and Holly Cousens voted to keep the requirement.

Nine members of the public spoke prior to the vote. Three were in favor of getting rid of E-Verify and six wanted the council to keep the requirement.

Those who wanted to be rid of the E-Verify requirement, including several small business owners who spoke, said the requirement taxed their limited resources and that they could better use the money it cost them on providing additional services to city residents or growing their businesses.

Those who spoke in favor of keeping the requirement noted that the program was billed as free and “easy to use” and that city officials should want to be sure that they were contracting with legally employable companies and individuals.

Council discussion

Gutierrez, who first questioned the city’s E-Verify requirement at an economic development committee meeting on May 2 and later made the formal motion to rescind the requirement, opened Tuesday’s discussion by saying the city needed to be rid of the “red tape” requirement.

She noted that use of E-Verify is not state or federally mandated but optional for cities. Coffey asked City Manager Cliff Moore how many cities in Washington used E-Verify. Moore replied four, in addition to Yakima.

“So four, out of Washington’s 281 cities,” Coffey said.

White said he did not believe the city needed to enforce a requirement that was not state or federally mandated.

Funk said she decided to vote against getting rid of E-Verify because she was not satisfied that data from 2011 showed that there was a significant burden or cost to business owners.

Hill also said he did not find the testimony of the businesses owners who spoke compelling or consistent. He also cited data from 2018 that less than one percent of workers vetted with E-Verify were denied, saying the program seemed to be an effective process. Cousens also cited that 2018 data.

The resolution

The resolution passed Tuesday notes that the federal E-Verify program is not mandated under federal or state law and that the program placed an undue administrative, economic and regulatory burden on small businesses.

The resolution also noted it is in the city’s best interest to expedite economic opportunities for new and existing small businesses to contract with the city and reduce the burden for businesses that contract with the city to hire new employees.