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Some Georgia Immigration Bills Advance, Others Stagnate or Fail
(APN) ATLANTA -- With several immigration-related bills introduced this year in the Georgia Legislature, some of the most sweeping measures--modeled after recently passed immigration reforms in Arizona--are advancing to passage, while other bills face hurdles or have stagnated. Atlanta Progressive News has attended committee hearings and observed floor debates related to several of these bills.
HB 87, "SHOW ME YOUR PAPERS," PASSES STATE HOUSE
HB 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act, is Georgia's Arizona-style immigration bill, referred to by activists as "Show Me Your Papers." It went through at least 16 different drafts to address various concerns raised by advocates, business leaders, and lawmakers before it passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee on Monday, February 28, 2011.
The bill, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Matt Ramsey, then passed the full State House on Thursday, March 03, 2011, in a vote of 113 to 56.
"I'm concerned about our ability to write legislation when, still two years later we can't decide if the President [Obama] is a citizen. How in the world are we going to decide who's a citizen in Georgia?" State Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat, said on the House floor before the vote on HR 87. Williams was referring to a recent bill by State Rep. Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross) to require next year's US Presidential candidates to provide hard proof of their US citizenship.
As Republicans held a vote for HB 87 inside, over 200 people gathered outside, with less than 24 hours notice, to oppose the bill. Many believe HB 87 will encourage racial profiling and a vigilante environment in Georgia. This bill would require all Georgians to carry identification on them at all times in order to avoid being detained while police try to determine their status.
This would turn Georgia into a police state. It would hurt state and local economies and lead to a tremendous loss in tourism dollars. There may also be economic consequences from enforcement, lawsuits, and boycotts.
SB 40, SENATE COUNTERPART, PASSES SENATE CMTE
SB 40 mirrors several provisions in HB 87, although it appears more narrow in scope and more focused on requiring employers to use the E-verify system. SB 40 was introduced by State Sen. Jack Murphy and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Cmte passed SB 40 on Wednesday March 02, 2011, and it now heads to the full State Senate for a vote. SB 40 also orders fines and jail time for certain non-citizens who do not carry a "certificate of registration." It further authorizes state and local law enforcement to detain individuals for unspecified period of time to determine their status.
HB 59, BANNING UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS FROM COLLEGES, PASSES HOUSE CMTE
HB 59 the "Lawful presence verification; postsecondary education; reserve benefits" bill, referred to by advocates as "Destroying the Dreams," was introducted by State Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross). Rice argues the legislation is necessary to prevent undocumented students from taking seats away from US citizens.
HB 59 would prohibit all 35 public universities and colleges in Georgia from admitting undocumented students, regardless of their academic qualification.
The Regents recently enacted a rule, effective next fall, barring undocumented immigrants from attending institutions that have waitlists for qualified applicants: Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, and Georgia State University.
Chancelor Erroll Davis of the University System of Georgia testified that "only 501 of the 311,000 students statewide were undocumented and paying out-of-state tuition." Undocumented does not necessarily mean the students are in the US illegally. "We are in the education business, not the immigration business," Davis said.
Students who pay out-of-state tuition, pay three to four times more than students who pay in-state tuition.
State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) testified before the House Higher Education Cmte on February 16, 2011, about a soldier who couldn’t get into classes at Gainesville State College because, according to the story, the soldier did not respond to a letter requesting tuition which arrived while he was on military duty.
"Should legal citizens be standing behind the line of people who are not here legally?" Sen. Belfour asked.
"Our capacity is not being stressed by thousands of illegal students," Davis replied. "We have taken the necessary actions to ensure that the children of taxpaying Georgians are not displaced by undocumented students."
Anti-immigrant activist D.A. King revealed in his remarks, "The solider who did not get into Gainesville College was Senator Balfour's son."
"Sen. Balfour wants preferential treatment for his son," Minnie Ruffin, a member of Georgia Peace and Justice Coaltion, concluded.
State Rep. Len Walker who chaired the Cmte called for an unusual voice vote on HB 59. All in favor of HB 59 say "yes" and those opposed say "no." The no's were louder but Rep. Walker said the bill passed. People in the audience shouted out "roll call vote." No one knew who voted for the bill or even if the majority voted for the bill.
"I have only seen two non-roll call votes in twenty years of observing the legislature," activist Larry Pellegrini said.
HB 72, ENGLISH-ONLY DRIVER'S LICENSE EXAM, TABLED IN STATE HOUSE
One bill which had a hearing did not fair so well. HB 72 "English Only Driver's License Exam" was introduced by State Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville). It was tabled in the House on February 09, 2011.
Opponents argued the bill was discriminatory. The test is currently given in 14 languages.
State Rep. BJ Pak (R-Lilburn) introduced an alternative proposal which required the state to update its sign test to include the most common English words used on digital signs. When Pak's amendment passed, which addressed the original concern about reading street signs, HB 72 was tabled.
OTHER IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION INTRODUCED
Meanwhile, several bills were introduced but have simply stagnated.
SB 7 was introduced by State Sen. Bill Heath to ban undocumented workers from collecting workers' comp benefits for on-the-job injuries. It was introduced on January 25, 2011, but has not advanced.
SB 27 "Georgia Public Works and Contractor Protection Act" was introduced by State Sen. Judson Hill. It requires use of E-Verify by public contractors and sub-contractors and establishes non-compliance penalties, including civil and criminal sanctions. According to advocates, the E-Verify databases are loaded with errors and disproportionately affect lawful residents and naturalized citizens. SB 27 was introduced on January 27, 2011, but has not advanced.
SB 104, "State Government; prohibit policies by local governments that limit/restrict the enforcement of immigration laws; definitions," was introduced by State Sen. Mullis and others, on February 17, 2011, but has not advanced.
SB 174, which would force all Georgia counties with a population of 100,000 or more, to enter the controversial federal 287(g) program, was introduced State Sen. Charlie Bethel on March 01, 2011, but has not advanced.
HB 296, introduced by State Rep. Josh Clark, mandates the State Board of Education and all school boards to provide annual data on number of undocumented students in grades K through 12. The Georgia Department of Community Health would also be mandated to compile data on undocumented patients at any hospital, health care facility, or medical or skilled nursing home. It was introduced on February 23, 2011, but has not advanced.
(END / 2011)
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