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Immigration law creates strain for business license office
Board of commissioners cite 'unfunded mandate'
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In a discussion of the state's new anti-illegal immigration bill Monday, more than one member of the Hall County Board of Commissioners used the term "unfunded mandate."

Commissioners' discussion of the multifaceted Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 at a commission work session zeroed in on one aspect that will require county business owners to renew their licenses in person each year.

"There's a burden on us— and we're used to these unfunded mandates from the state — but this is also a pretty extensive burden on our business owners," Commissioner Craig Lutz said.

The new law means each license holder or a representative of the business will have to appear in person to renew the license for 2012.

The license holder will also have to bring in an original form of identification and sign an affidavit swearing legal residency in the United States.

Already, the county requires all new license holders to sign a citizenship affidavit, but has not required it on renewals.

House Bill 87 requires the affidavit to be signed annually by Hall County's 3,700 business license holders and another 100 licensees who sell alcohol beginning in 2012.

Most licenses for 2012 are renewed by the end of 2011.

"I'm sure most (business owners) have heard of House Bill 87, but they don't know that it's going to affect them directly in this regard," said Susan Rector, head of Hall County's business license department.

The county's staff, too, may be ill-equipped to handle the workload. The county business license department currently has two employees to handle all the renewals by the end of the year.

Rector told commissioners her department may need some extra help with the process.

"I don't see any way that two people can tend to 3,700 people walking into your office and doing all this documentation in an 80-day period," Commissioner Scott Gibbs said.

Gibbs, too, mentioned the financial burden that the new state law places on the local government, because the bill also requires the county to fund an audit of its practices.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said some local government lobbyists are hoping the General Assembly revisits some of the provisions that are "a burden on local government."

"I would say let's send a letter to our state representatives, but we don't have any right now," Commissioner Ashley Bell said.

At the moment, a seat in the state House of Representatives is vacant. James Mills, who represented South Hall for nearly 20 years, resigned at the beginning of October to take an appointment from Gov. Nathan Deal to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

His seat will be filled in a Nov. 8 special election. Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, has been drawn out of Hall County in new district maps.

Rep. Doug Collins, who represents much of North Hall, is still a member of the local delegation but is seeking a seat in the U.S. House.

Rep. Carl Rogers is also still a member of the General Assembly, but his district is within the city limits of Gainesville.


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