2/9 Athens Online: Editorial: Lawmakers are compromised on immigration || OnlineAthens.com

Editorial: Lawmakers are compromised on immigration || OnlineAthens.com

Published Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Georgia’s state lawmakers are ready to take a hard line on illegal immigration, except when they’re not.

Senate Bill 40, now in that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, would require contractors working with governmental entities to provide information on any subcontractors working for them, and would require those subcontractors to use a federal database with regard to the immigration status of their employees. The bill would further require all private employers operating under a state or local business license to verify the immigration status of newly hired employees.

Public contractors and subcontractors found in violation of the proposed law would be prohibited from bidding on, or entering into, any new public contracts for a year, and would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per day for each day of violating the law.

Private employers would receive a warning for an initial violation, and could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 for a second violation. Beyond that, a private employer could lose their business license for up to two years.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, don’t bet on the final version of Senate Bill 40 looking anything like the bill currently up for consideration.

At a Monday hearing attended by representatives of the state’s agricultural and commercial construction industries, the bill’s sponsor – Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming – started the proceedings by noting the bill is “a work in progress,” according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

Murphy also “said he intended to meet with the business groups and others as he ‘redefines and tightens up the language’ in the bill,” the Atlanta newspaper reported. He followed that up with an assurance that the “bill you have before you is not the bill that we will probably ultimately come out with.”

Subsequently, a Georgia Agribusiness Council official all but said that illegal workers are a necessary part of the state’s economy. “When … we talk about requirements for … verification, I see a shrinking of Georgia’s agricultural economy,” the council president said, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Similarly, an official with the Georgia branch of Associated General Contractors of America urged lawmakers “to be very cautious … and not put business in harm’s way while trying to address a real problem,” the Atlanta newspaper noted.

After the hearing, Murphy seemed far more emphatic on immigration legislation, telling the Journal-Constitution, “Do we want immigration reform or do we not want immigration reform?”

In asking that question, Murphy perhaps unknowingly framed the issue with which he and his legislative colleagues will be wrestling. Certainly, any number of Georgia residents want immigration reform. But just as certainly, any number of Georgia employers don’t want immigration reform. Thus, lawmakers find themselves neatly hemmed in by voters, whose ballots they need to stay in office, and the business community, whose money they need to campaign for office.

So, how will these competing interests be addressed by the General Assembly? Here’s one possible scenario:

Murphy and like-minded lawmakers will talk a tough game about immigration reform while the bill moves quietly to the House, and then languishes in a House-Senate conference committee. Then, in the waning hours of the legislative session, as lawmakers work at a furious pace to get their work done by midnight on the final legislative day, the bill will be resurrected and then amended and amended again, until finally it is passed – in a version that no lawmaker fully understands, but that will almost certainly be weighted in favor of the businesses whose representatives showed up for this week’s hearing.

Why? Because Georgia lawmakers seem to be serious about immigration reform, except when they aren’t.


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