The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An effort to require many private businesses to verify the immigration status of their workers won a crucial vote in the Georgia Senate on Monday, setting up a a showdown with the House over citizenship checks.
The 34-21 vote on Senate Bill 40 means separate immigration bills have cleared each legislative chamber, and the sponsors of both said they expected negotiators from both bodies to begin working on a compromise.
Launching more than four hours of debate, SB 40′s sponsor, Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, said the choice for his colleagues was simple.
“The question is, simply, do you want immigration reform or not,” he said.
For a while, the answer was not clear. Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, spoke in skeptical terms about the proposal. Williams said small businesses need fewer, not more, regulations.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” Williams said.
The powerful leader of the Senate was arguing in favor of an amendment that would exempt more businesses from the bill’s requirements. The amendment from Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, would have raised to 25 — from five — the number of people a business must employ before it would be forced to use the federal E-Verify program to examine workers’ citizenship. But Bulloch’s amendment was defeated by three votes.
Despite the amendment’s failure, the vote for the bill was overwhelming and along party lines.
The House passed tougher and more comprehensive immigration legislation, sponsored by Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, this month. House Bill 87 is twice as long as Murphy’s bill and more far-reaching.
Like the House legislation, Murphy’s bill would require many private businesses to use E-Verify to confirm their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States. But unlike the House bill, the Senate legislation includes exemptions for farmers and other employers who hire migrant workers through a federal guest worker program.
Another key difference: Under HB 87, certain employers that fail to use E-Verify would be blocked from getting official licenses, certificates and other documents they need to do business in Georgia. The Senate bill includes no such provision.
Both bills, meanwhile, would authorize police to question suspects about their legal status under certain circumstances. But unlike SB 40, HB 87 would punish certain people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants here, and it would penalize people who “willfully and fraudulently” use fake identification to get a job in Georgia.
Ramsey said he will start asking senators to act on his bill later this week.
“Everybody is focused on getting their House bills out of the House and Senate bills out of the Senate,” Ramsey said.
After Wednesday’s Crossover Day — the last day for bills to move from one chamber to the next — each chamber will focus more on each others’ bills.
In the afternoon, Democrats took to the well of the Senate to urge the bill’s demise.
“It’s going to represent more big government, more intrusion and more requirements on businesses trying to grow their operation and help the economy,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.
But Murphy, in closing the debate, said it is taxpayers who are paying the price now.
“Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you want to admit to $1.6 billion or $1 billion or $500 million,” Murphy said. “You have to admit it’s costing Georgia taxpayers money.”
Staff writers Christopher Quinn and Jeremy Redmon contributed to this report.