The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The author of major legislation targeting illegal immigration in Georgia confirmed Friday that he has already started revising his 17-page bill partly to protect it against potential court challenges.
At a packed hearing in the state Capitol, Rep. Matt Ramsey told the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee that he was already on a 16th draft of House Bill 87, also called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act.
The draft he presented to the panel Friday, however, didn’t delete the bill’s original key provisions, including one that requires police to investigate the immigration status of certain people they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally.
Several committee members, meanwhile, raised tough questions about parts of the bill. They asked about one part that would enable state residents to sue local governments for not complying with certain state laws, including one provision aimed at preventing cities and counties from hiring illegal immigrants.
Committee members said they worry people could file frivolous lawsuits against financially struggling governments. They also asked whether there would be any extra state funding available to cover the cost of additional police expenses that could stem from the bill.
So many people showed up for the committee hearing that officials directed some to other hearing rooms where they could watch the proceedings live on television. The committee is scheduled to resume its hearing on the bill at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, when supporters and opponents are scheduled to speak. The sign-up list for speakers grew to three pages Friday.
The hearing for Ramsey’s bill had not even gotten under way Friday morning before the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to challenge the measure in court.
ACLU officials said the bill and a similar bill in the Senate called SB 40 resemble Arizona laws that were halted by a federal judge last year after the Obama administration challenged their constitutionality.
“The proposed bills are unconstitutional and violate core American values,” Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a prepared statement released early Friday. “The ACLU of Georgia will challenge such racial-profiling legislation if passed in Georgia.”
Ramsey and Republican Sen. Jack Murphy, the author of the Senate bill, have argued their bills are constitutional and include protections against racial profiling.
“This is just the latest example of why the ACLU has become completely marginalized as a tool of extreme left-wing causes,” said Ramsey, a Republican from Peachtree City. “They are out of touch and out of the mainstream and not interested in addressing any of the real problems facing the citizens of our state.”
Similar to one of the Arizona laws halted by the federal judge, Ramsey’s and Murphy’s bills would require state and local police to investigate the immigration status of certain people they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. They also would authorize police to arrest them if they are in the country illegally and transport them to a federal jail.
The Georgia legislation would also require certain private businesses to use a federal program called E-Verify. That program seeks to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.
Rep. Rich Golick, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and a co-sponsor of HB 87, said it doesn’t make sense for the ACLU to threaten a suit against the bill now, when it is still being revised. Golick, a Republican from Smyrna, said his panel will review a new draft of the bill when it meets Tuesday.
“I know there will be additional changes that will reflect actual policy changes, certainly in the next draft and definitely by the time we go to a markup,” he said.