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House Republicans push comprehensive immigration bill
Rules committee to see bill before full vote
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House Republicans stripped a Senate immigration bill Monday and replaced it with wording from the more comprehensive legislation already passed by their chamber.

With a 6-3 vote, the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee changed Senate Bill 40 to look like House Bill 87, which passed the House with a 113-56 floor vote earlier this month.

"Essentially it was a formality because legislation must pass both sides before going to a conference committee to work out the differences," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, one of the committee members. "It has a lot of different moving parts, and we're going to see some things worked on, but the bill does what it needs to do and stays away from what it doesn't need to do."

Collins wasn't able to attend Monday morning's committee meeting, but he voted in favor of HB 87 when it passed through the House.

"I think it's a good effort, though it's early to say what the final result will look like," he said Monday afternoon. "The basic reform is out there, and I think we'll see something pass this session. A lot of people have been working on it."

There was little discussion on the bill before the vote, and the floor was not opened for public comment because the committee already voted on the specific language when it passed the House version.

The Senate bill will now go to the House Rules Committee, which will decide if and when it gets a full House vote.

The House version of the bill still has not been set for a committee hearing in the Senate.

The joint conference committee will be made up of three negotiators from each chamber, including Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, and Rep Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, who created the Senate and House immigration bills.

The bills require employers to use the E-Verify federal database to check the immigration status of new hires. They would also authorize law enforcement to check the immigration status of criminal suspects who can't produce an accepted form of identification, which is similar to a provision in a tough law enacted last year in Arizona.

The House bill is more extensive than the Senate version and gives harsher penalties for people who "willfully and fraudulently" present false documentation when applying for a job and for people who harbor or transport illegal immigrants. It would allow individuals to sue state or local government officials who don't comply with state laws on verifying the immigration status of new hires and applicants for public benefits.

"I'm a strong opponent of both bills. They're both poorly written and unconstitutional on their faces," said Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso. "They allow law enforcement officers to come up to anybody they see on the street and ask for their papers, and if you can't produce a satisfactory ID, then you're arrested."

This aspect of the bill could lead to racial profiling, Corso said.

"I've heard some people say that officers should decide who to check by looking at people's shoes and see if they look humble, dusty and modest," Corso said. "That's ridiculous and impossible. We can't have law enforcement turning into the shoe police."

Corso also questions the intended scope of the bill.

It excludes businesses with fewer than four employees from having to verify the immigration status of their employees.

"The lion's share of small businesses fall in this category, so if this is essential for national security, why are we exempting these small businesses? We can't have it both ways," Corso said.

"I'd like Sen. Murphy and Rep. Ramsey to answer this question: What part of economic disaster don't you understand?"

In particular, Corso and other opponents to the bill are afraid it will damage the state's economy and reputation.

"We need to leave this to the federal system and do what we need to do, which is restore the economic vitality of Georgia," he said.

Seven other immigration-related bills have stalled during the 2011 legislative session, not gaining passage in either chamber. The bills would ban illegal immigrants from attending state colleges and collecting worker's compensation and jobless benefits. Another bill would allow illegal immigrants convicted of drunken driving to face a felony for a first-time offense.

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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