Jim Galloway opened his Sunday column this week by saying, “One doesn’t need to keep Sherlock Holmes on retainer to uncover a hot bill in the state Capitol.” He’s talking about the Georgia General Assembly’s Senate Bill 40 and House Bill 87, both of which represent the state’s strongest serious effort yet to address the issue of illegal immigration. Galloway devoted four more posts this week to the topic, another giveaway that the two pieces of legislation will be among the most important in this session.
SB 40 was introduced by Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), who remains under federal investigation into his role in the failure of Integrity Bank. HB 87 comes courtesy of Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City). Both bills include variations on the most controversial part of Arizona’s SB 1070, passed last year: language authorizing law enforcement officers to “attempt to determine the immigration status” during “any stop of a criminal suspect” upon “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect is an illegal alien.
The two bills also seek to strengthen relatively weak requirements preventing state government agencies from hiring illegal immigrants. HB 87 goes a step further by allowing citizens to sue state agencies if they violate these laws. HB 87 also includes criminal penalties for “encouraging” illegal immigration, so as Galloway says, keep an eye on what you say about the Dawgs whilst in Cabo. Both bills also require that all state businesses use the federal E-Verify system, a computer registry that helps to ensure that employees are legal residents. The E-Verify system is encouraged now, but not required for businesses that don’t contract with state and local governments.
More than anything else, it’s the E-Verify requirement that is driving a wedge into one of the Republicans’ key constituencies: the business community. One of the many, many reasons that the issue of illegal immigration is so complicated in this country is the value that illegal immigrants provide to the nation’s economy. Agriculture particularly benefits from undocumented workers, and though SB 40 would give the state’s agriculture an exemption from the E-Verify requirement, HB 87 would not. The president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council said yesterday that the requirement would put “another layer of government on an already challenged workforce.”
Over at the conservative-leaning Peach Pundit Monday, Ron Daniels pointed out another potential problem with the two bills. Last summer, the day before SB 1070 was to go into effect in Arizona, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking it, and the bill will likely continue to make its way through the courts before it goes into effect. Daniels worries about a “protracted legal battle” putting more pressure on the state’s government, and argues that legislators should wait for the Arizona bill to be decided before passing anything resembling SB 40.
Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) offered a rejoinder to Daniels’ argument today. The Legislature won’t “wait for eight Supreme Court justices to make up their minds.” These bills are pretty comprehensive, and serious efforts unlike what we’ve seen in the General Assembly to this point. The debate over these two bills is sure to be contentious, particularly if pro-business and small-government Republicans stall the bill. Regardless, we’re gonna be talking about this one until April and beyond.