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Immigration law could increase government workload
Local officials take part in training session for law's effects
Ray Perez makes a point Monday while discussing the new immigration law at a training session at the Georgia Mountains Center. - photo by Tom Reed

Tracie Morris spoke the concerns of a number of local government employees Monday.

"I've got 3,000 people, and I'm a two-person office and I've got to bring all those people in?"

Morris, who handles business and alcoholic beverage licenses for the city of Gainesville, asked the question of a six-member panel assembled Monday at the Georgia Mountains Center to train local officials on the ramifications of Georgia's new immigration bill.

And what the local officials learned from the three-hour training was that compliance with House Bill 87 is going to mean considerably more work for them.

The bill could mean that umpires hired by local recreation departments will need to be verified as legal residents. It could also mean that patients using a local government-owned ambulance for a non-emergency transport would have to sign an affidavit swearing their legal presence in the United States before getting a ride, local officials learned Monday.

And those like Morris, who handle thousands of business licenses and alcoholic beverage licenses each year, will now have to deal — in person — with every single one of the city's licensees every year.

Normally, business owners in Gainesville renew their business licenses by mail, Morris said.

But, beginning in January, House Bill 87 requires proof of legal residency in the United States "each time the public benefit is administered," Russell Willard, senior assistant attorney general told the crowd of about 300 local government employees Monday.

Included in the state's definition of "public benefit" are local business licenses, taxicab licenses, alcoholic beverage licenses and licenses for insurance companies.

A permit to visit a city-owned greenspace is not considered a "public benefit," but a ride in a government-owned vehicle that's not providing emergency transport is, according to the panel assembled Monday.

The panel included attorneys from the state attorney general's office, labor and employment lawyers, and attorneys representing the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

The Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia that set up Monday's training have more meetings planned across the state in the fall, said ACCG spokeswoman Beth Brown.

"This one filled up a lot faster than we expected," she said.

People from 35 counties and representing 90 cities attended Monday's training, targeted at local clerks, managers, hiring officials and finance directors who might be directly affected by the law's requirements.

Many stayed for nearly an hour after the presentation ended Monday to ask questions.

But some questions Monday, like one on whether a building permit has been deemed a "public benefit," seemed to stump even the panel of experts.

"If you need it to do your business in the county or the city, then yes," Penny Hannah, a representative of Attorney General Sam Olens' office, said after a few moments of deliberation.

But then Hannah held her hand out, shaking it back and forth, signaling the issue was debatable.

"There are many gray areas in the law," said Rusi Patel, deputy general counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association.