The state Senate has endorsed a bill that would criminalize the employment of illegal immigrants.

House Bill 297 would suspend the license of a business that employs illegal immigrants and would allow the prosecution of whistleblowers who provide false reports of illegal labor.

The bill passed an initial Senate vote Wednesday along party lines. It has already passed the House

Republican Sen. Verdell Jackson of Kalispell says the measure would discourage illegal immigrants from taking Montanans' jobs, while providing ways for employers to verify their employees are eligible to work.

Opponents call the bill heartless, unwelcoming and anti-business.

The bill must pass a final vote before heading to Gov. Steve Bullock's office.

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