With the 2012 legislative session approaching, D.A. King, president of the Cobb-based Dustin Inman Society, said he doesn’t want to see the agencies like the Georgia Municipal Association, or the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia lobbying to weaken House Bill 87, which passed in the 2011 session.
The law adds teeth to a 2006 law that requires public employers and their contractors to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of employees and contractors, as well as applicants for business licenses. House Bill 87 also expands the laws to private employers.
In 2010, with the support of GMA and ACCG, State Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) offered an amendment to the 2006 law that would have required the background checks only on contractors working on buildings, roads or “real property.” King helped lead the effort to shoot down the amendment before passage, claiming it would have allowed cities and counties to still hire illegal immigrants for cleaning services, landscaping, plumbing and other work.
King said it took years for the pro-enforcement side to add the penalties in House Bill 87, and it would not surprise him to see GMA and ACCG work to try to undo those.
“ACCG/GMA represents one of the most powerful lobbying concerns under the Gold Dome and uses its dues from its member counties and municipalities to hire these ubiquitous well-funded lobbyists,” King said. “County and city governments get their funds from taxpayers. I urge voters to monitor the activities of ACCG/GMA to see how their money is used in the Capitol.”
But both agencies denied they will be seeking to water down the laws.
“If a lawmaker decides to take a look at that again, we would have some things that we would like them to consider, but we don’t know that we will be pushing anything,” GMA’s Amy Henderson said.
GMA would like to allow for exceptions to the E-Verify requirements in case of an emergency, when contractors are brought in to deal with the aftermath of tornadoes, fires or other disasters, Henderson said.
The law also is unclear on whether identification information can be submitted electronically, Henderson said. Some business-license applicants can be based out of state, or even in other countries, making it difficult to submit information in person.
And Henderson said she is concerned because officials who violate the law can be subject to fines, removal from office — even jail time.
ACCG’s Beth Brown agreed. The two agencies are jointly hosting immigration training sessions to help local government officials across Georgia. Their last session is scheduled for Thursday in Canton.
“We’re not looking to do anything to repeal any parts of it,” Brown said of House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee sang E-Verify’s praises.
“E-Verify is a good tool and helps the county meet the legal requirements as well as the public’s expectations,” Lee said. “The intent is to verify that public dollars will only be spent with legally eligible companies and their employees.”
In Smyrna, Mayor Max Bacon said that City Clerk Susan Hiott and business license director Jim Cox have already attended training sessions on the changes and how cities will deal with them.
“So far, as far as I know, it’s working fine,” Bacon said. “Initially, I think we had some problems getting the thing set up, but that was a couple years ago.”
Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins said he’s noticed some applicants for business licenses don’t seem as interested once they hear about the new laws.
“When we give them the (the forms to fill out), some of them don’t come back,” he said. “They don’t bother to apply when they find out they have to do certain things.”
In 2008, Cobb County and city of Marietta leaders had a heated email exchange over which was the first government body in Georgia to implement E-Verify to check the status of business license applicants.
At the time, then-Mayor Bill Dunaway said Marietta had been verifying business licenses since 1996.
Current Mayor Steve Tumlin said he has not heard of much controversy over the use of E-Verify.
“I think we’re in full compliance, and we were in compliance all along,” he said.
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, who has been in office for 10 years, said his city has checked immigration status “for as long as I can remember.”
“It is not anything that has interrupted our business or ability to provide services for our citizens,” Allegood said.