Senate OKs immigration compromise

ATLANTA - The final version of a crackdown on illegal immigration in Georgia is halfway home.

The Senate voted 39-16 Monday afternoon to adopt an agreement a legislative conference committee had reached hours earlier on the immigration bill.

However, in an unusual move, the House adjourned without taking up the conferees' recommendations. Typically, the House and Senate vote the same day on conference committee agreements on pending bills.

The immigration measure has been a top priority of the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year.

It would require Georgia adults seeking many public services to prove they are either U.S. citizens or in this country legally, thus screening out illegal immigrants.

The bill also would go after businesses that hire illegal workers. Companies seeking government contracts would have to verify their workers' legal status, using a system set up by the federal government.

Those conducting business in the private sector would be discouraged from hiring illegals by being hit with tax penalties.

Siding with the version of the bill adopted by the Senate, the conferees removed a provision from the bill that would have levied a 5 percent surcharge on funds illegal immigrants wire out of the country.

Instead, the conference committee added a provision to slap any worker who can't provide a taxpayer identification number with a 6 percent state income tax.

The state Department of Revenue complained that the surcharge on wire transfers would have created too great an additional workload for the agency's collection agents, said Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, who was the chief sponsor of the surcharge.

"Our taxes are paying for services that illegals cost,'' he said. "What that turns out to be is a subsidy to their employers ... I think this does a good job getting at that.''

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, the underlying bill's chief sponsor, said the income-tax provision probably would generate more tax revenue for the state than the surcharge would have produced.

"This is something that's already being used in other states.'' he said. "We think it's on better legal ground.''

All 16 of the votes against the bill in the Senate came from Democrats.

Throughout debate on the measure, opponents have argued that illegal immigration is a federal issue and should be addressed by Congress, not state lawmakers.

The U.S. Senate began taking up comprehensive immigration legislation on Monday and is expected to spend at least this week debating the issue.

Several hundred thousand people demonstrated on the streets of downtown Los Angeles last weekend against a federal crackdown on illegals, while several other cities featured smaller protests.

"We will have (federal) immigration reform moving in the next few days,'' state Sen. Sam Zamarripa, D-Atlanta, told his colleagues shortly before Monday's vote on the conference committee's agreement.

"The federal government is the only group that will fix this. All this (bill) does is create a lot of fear in a community that is here to work.''

After the mid-afternoon Senate vote, the House was expected to take up the bill.

Instead, Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, announced late in the afternoon that the House would not consider any conference committee reports on Monday.

House members either will debate the bill today, the 39th and next-to-last day of this year's session or wait until the final day of lawmaking, set for Thursday.