ATLANTA—An immigration bill that contains some parts similar to a law enacted in Arizona is heading to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.
The General Assembly already had tackled major legislation on issues including the HOPE college scholarship, Sunday alcohol sales and the 2012 budget. A proposal to overhaul the state’s tax code fell apart in the last hours.
Immigration was the only big bill on the agenda the final day. The Senate voted 37 to 19 and the House voted 112-59 to pass the bill that includes parts similar to a contentious law enacted last year in Arizona.
Deal supported tough immigration measures in Congress, but a spokesman declined to say whether the governor would sign the bill.
The bill would authorize law officers to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects and would allow them to detain those found to be in the country illegally. It also would penalize people who “knowingly and intentionally” transport or harbor illegal immigrants.
It also would require employers with 10 or more employees to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.
Democrats argued that immigration is a federal issue and that the bill would harm the state’s economy and could lead to civil rights violations.
“You have crafted a bill that insists on demonizing people of brown skin and with Spanish accents,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.
The bill also says agriculture is a “vital pillar” for the state’s economy and that a federal guest worker program that allows the industry to bring in seasonal workers is “administratively cumbersome and flawed.”
It includes a resolution that directs the state Department of Agriculture to study the issue and recommend actions or legislation.
The Georgia immigration debate coincides with a federal appeals court decision Monday to uphold a stay blocking major parts of Arizona’s tough immigration law. The bill’s author, Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, said the language in his bill differs significantly from Arizona’s and that he is confident it will stand up to any legal challenges.
• Both houses passed a bill that extends a hefty tax break for Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream Aerospace. That break on the sale of aircraft parts on planes repaired or maintained in Georgia will cost the state $4.2 million in revenue next year.
The state Senate tacked on an amendment providing a tax break for developers of tourist attractions.
• A tax break for another hometown corporate giant, Delta Air Lines, also passed. It could save the company up to $30 million over two years on taxes it would have owed on jet fuel.
• Lawmakers passed a bill that allows employees of utilities to make contributions to political campaigns. The legislation also closes an ethics loophole that exempted lobbyists from disclosing what they spend on gifts to staff members of elected officials. The ethics watchdog group Common Cause of Georgia praised lawmakers for moving quickly to close the loophole but the group doesn’t like the provision dealing with utility contributions.
• The legislature also approved a bill that would have Georgia enter into a proposed health care compact. The bill would pave the way for Georgia to create alliances with other states on health care.
• The House passed a bill that removes distance restrictions on South Georgia hunters who use bait to attract deer and feral hogs. Opponents labeled such hunting unsportsmanlike and unethical. But supporters say it will help thin out booming deer and hog populations.
• Lawmakers signed off on a bill that creates an advisory panel to look at an overhaul of the state’s tough sentencing laws. The joint committee will make recommendations in time for lawmakers to act next year.
• Lawmakers passed a bill that would give the governor authority to appoint members to the embattled Atlanta Public School board.
Metro Atlanta lawmakers were split on the measure. At issue is the ability of the school board, now on probation, to maintain its accreditation. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed lobbied his former colleagues to support the proposal.
Deal expressed concern over the matter earlier this session and appointed liaisons from the General Assembly to monitor the situation.
• A bill allowing Georgians to dump lawn clippings into landfills also passed. The measure renews a $1 tire cleanup fee for three more years, but it doesn’t require that the fee be spent on tire cleanup. The money instead goes to the general fund.
Environmentalists say that allowing lawn clippings in landfills will discourage composting. But state Rep. Randy Nix, a LaGrange Republican, argued the change will help the composting industry by encouraging renewable energy from landfills.
State Rep. Mark Hatfield, a Waycross Republican, took issue with the tire fee, labeling it a tax.
Lawmakers are expected to return to the state Capitol Aug. 15 for a special session to deal with redrawing congressional and legislative district lines to conform to new U.S. census data.
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