3/14 – Atlanta BizJournal – Ga. Senate antes up on immigration reform | Atlanta Business Chronicle

Ga. Senate antes up on immigration reform | Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Date: Monday, March 14, 2011, 3:42pm EDT

The Georgia Senate approved an immigration reform bill Monday that would force most Georgia businesses to make sure the workers they hire are in the U.S. legally.

The legislation, which passed 34-21 and now goes to the House, would require businesses with five or more employees to enroll in E-Verify, a federal Web-based system that screens for illegal workers.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly enacted a law five years ago that applies the E-Verify mandate to companies seeking government contracts.

GOP legislative leaders now want to expand that law to the private sector to try to curb an influx of illegal immigrants into Georgia that is driving up the costs of education, health care and law enforcement across the state.

“Illegal immigration hurts Georgia taxpayers,” said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, the bill’s chief sponsor. “We need to clean up this mess.”

But opponents said that going after illegal immigrants by targeting businesses would be the wrong approach to an issue that should be addressed at the federal level.

Lobbyists for a wide variety of Georgia industries – including hospitality, construction, heavy manufacturing and agriculture – have fought hard against legislation they argue would impose a heavy financial burden on the businesses they represent.

“This bill piles on a whole new set of requirements for people who are just trying to run a business and make a living for their families,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. “It’s going to represent more big government and more intrusion.”

Senators approved one amendment during a nearly three-hour debate Monday, doing away with a provision in the original bill that would have exempted temporary and seasonal workers from the E-Verify requirement.

That brings the Senate bill in line with a no-exemptions immigration reform bill the House of Representatives passed two weeks ago.

A second amendment that would have weakened the bill by expanding the small-business exemption from businesses with five employees or fewer to companies with up to 25 workers was narrowly defeated.

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