Next Monday is the official start for the shipping of Georgia’s Vidalia onion crop. Prospects for a high-quality season are good.
To some rural Republican members of the state Senate, that means a large number of hands, in the field and beyond, will be needed quickly and temporarily, through June. Hiring will often be done on the spot, in isolated places without Internet service.
To many suburban Republicans in the same chamber, illegal immigration in Georgia has become such a drag on taxpayers that a slight, inexpensive inconvenience — specifically, requiring all businesses to run hiring prospects through a federal database — is an absolute necessity.
If a crop can’t be brought in without a certified, legal labor force, then perhaps it should stay in the field, the hardest of the hardcore argue.
We have arrived at the end of the winter session of the Legislature. HB 87, a measure addressing illegal immigration and sponsored by state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, remains the last big issue on the table.
The bill is before the Senate. That chamber began its work in January, split by an internal Republican power struggle that descended into frat house-level confrontations.
The Senate will end its work with a more serious division — between Republicans whose constituents think of food as something you get from the grocery store, and Republicans whose voters think of food as something you send there.
Illegal immigration is the ultimate base-versus-business confrontation among Republicans, and has stretched across three months. But the final chapter began only Monday, when the Senate — in a first look at HB 87 — stripped the measure of its most aggressive features.
The work was done by an odd, impromptu coalition: The Democratic rookie Jason Carter of Decatur, who has taken to the family business of politics like a house afire, and Republican John Bulloch, a southwest Georgia farmer who — during this debate — has become the strongest agribusiness voice in the Legislature.
An amendment by Carter weakened law enforcement provisions by giving police the right to stop suspected illegal immigrants and those who harbor or transport them only when a possible felony is involved.
The move was backed by elements of the state’s hospitality industry, which is fearful of a tourist backlash against “driving-while-brown” arrests.
Bulloch sponsored the amendment that stripped away the requirement that businesses use E-Verify, the federal database that indicates whether hires are legal U.S. residents. He and others have described the service as flawed.
The changes were approved with head counts rather than recorded votes, shielding GOP senators from the wrath of illegal immigration activists.
The revised version of HB 87 passed on a 39-17 vote, and was sent back to the House. Which rejected the Senate changes, reinserted the tougher provisions, and lobbed the bill back to the Senate like the hot potato it is.
“We have been looking…at the result of what the Senate did, which I think really brings into question whether they are serious about immigration reform,” House Speaker David Ralston said.
When the Legislature reconvenes for the final time today, supporters of HB 87 will attempt to force the Senate to accept the tough portions restored by the House — ending the fight with a single, recorded vote.
But word late Wednesday was that HB 87 supporters were short of the votes necessary for majority passage. As many as a dozen of 36 Republicans are balking.
State Rep. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, who cannot be described as anything but conservative, says HB 87 — as now written — threatens Georgia agriculture.
“A bill like that could do heavy damage to the state and the economy. It could criminalize your friends and neighbors,” he said.
Tolleson supports the move to remove the E-Verify requirement.
One reason: The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to a similar Arizona law. The case questions whether a state can require a private business to use a federal program. A decision is expected by the end of June.
Look for HB 87 to be pushed into a six-member, House-Senate conference committee. Four signatures and much compromise would be required for the bill’s survival. Plus a vote by both chambers during the rush of last-minute legislation.
Georgia business, whose campaign contributions fuel the Republican machine, would be perfectly satisfied to run out the clock. Which would infuriate the Republican base.
Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday said he was staying out of the negotiations, and would simply wait for the result — an entirely understandable approach, given the situation.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider