DES MOINES — A bill to force every Iowa business to check a federal database to confirm prospective employees are legal residents or U.S. citizens has cleared a senate committee. Republican Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola said it’s time for the state to act.

“Employers who hire people in the country illegally…that’s unfair to law-abiding people,” Garrett said during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. “And they suffer then because some employers cut their costs by hiring people that they can pay substandard wages to.”

Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, a Democrat, said he supports penalties for businesses that hire undocumented workers, but the bill includes no extra money for state agencies to investigate those companies.

“It also forced employers, even if they personally know the employees they’re hiring — so you might have a business where you’re hiring a niece or a nephew — to use a system that routinely wrongly flags thousands of US citizens as not properly documented every year,” Hogg said.

The bill has the backing of 26 Republican senators, which means it has enough votes to pass the state senate. If it becomes law, businesses caught hiring undocumented workers would lose their licenses or permits to operate in Iowa.

Business groups have raised objections to the bill, arguing it’s up to the federal government to establish immigration policy rather than the states. They warn the bill might create a statewide hiring freeze, too, if there’s another federal government shutdown, since the E-Verify system would be inaccessible.