Politics & Government

Senate panel OKs citizenship proof for welfare benefits

FRANKFORT — A Senate panel unanimously approved a bill Thursday morning that would require applicants to government welfare programs to provide official proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency.

Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving most forms of welfare, including Medicaid, food stamps, public housing and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Their U.S.-born children, if they have any, automatically are citizens and are eligible.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he has heard stories about illegal immigrants who used dishonest measures to get into the welfare system and collect benefits. He could not provide data or specific examples.

"We have no way of knowing how many that there are," Wilson said after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his Senate Bill 118 and sent it to the Senate floor.

Wilson's bill would require the attorney general, by Aug. 1, to make public a list of acceptable state and federal documents to establish citizenship or legal residency. After that, state agencies granting public benefits would have to check those documents.

After the hearing, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said the state already verifies citizenship or legal alien status for aid applicants, using a database operated by the federal government.

Democratic senators on the committee voted for the bill, although they raised concerns about the availability of official documents. Some native-born Kentuckians do not possess driver licenses, passport or — in rare instances of people born at home — even birth certificates, they said.

Also Thursday, the committee approved:

■ Senate Bill 5, which would make the Office of Attorney General a nonpartisan post. The sponsor, Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, said the state's top prosecuting job should not be political or a stepping stone for higher office. The current attorney general, Jack Conway, is a Democrat, but Stine said the bill is not intended to criticize him.

■ House Concurrent Resolution 129, which would establish a task force to study the role of juveniles in the criminal courts. Among other things, the task force would consider alternatives to detention for juveniles charged with minor "status offenses." A report would be submitted to the Legislative Research Commission in November.