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TANNER: State legislature is acting like it's not too busy to hate

"The Roman Emperor Caligula is rightly criticized because he appointed a horse to the Roman Senate. But at least he appointed the whole horse." Said of a Mississippi state senator.

Now and then, a legislative body goes stark-raving mad. That has happened in Georgia when the State Senate passed Senate Bill 67, a law to require English-only driver's license tests.

You would think the Georgia Senate would want to attract jobs to Georgia, especially now when so many Georgians are desperate for work. Apparently it does not. If this bill becomes law, it will discourage companies from locating new businesses in the state.

Think of it driving the Kia plant across the river into Alabama.

Just think about it for a minute. SB 67 forbids giving driving tests in languages other than English. Sound good? Think a little more. Let's say that a multinational corporation headquartered in Korea or Germany or China or Japan wants to build a plant in the United States. A core team would come from the home country, but most of the workers would be from here in the USA.

How will that company look at a state that will not let its executive and technicians and their families get driver's licenses? Highway signs use international symbols, so there is no safety issue. Most states will happily test drivers in German, Japanese or Pig Latin if it will help bring jobs to their state. If Georgia will not let the managers and their families drive, what are the chances that the plant will be located in Georgia?

This same bad idea came up in the Alabama Legislature. A bill was introduced to require English-only driver's license tests. The strongest opposition came from business leaders from areas that were trying to attract overseas industries. A multi-billion-dollar project by Thyssen-Krupp, whose management speaks German, was slated for Mobile. A Volkswagen plant was up for grabs, and the state was sending endless overtures to Japan and Korea.

The Alabama Legislature got the message and killed the bill. Did you hear that Mercedes is expanding its operation in Alabama?

There is also the issue of common decency. Before Georgia limits the right to drive a car, it will not only affect immigrants. It will limit the rights of many citizens born right here in the United States, including the folks who were here all along -- Native Americans. About a third of Navajos have limited English proficiency. So do more than 4 million Latinos who were born right here in the United States.

Surely the Georgia Legislature knows of the heroism of the Navajo Code Talkers. Surely they know that many Americans who cannot pass an English-only driver's test have sons and daughters in uniform. Some have sons and daughters who have given their lives to this country, or who today are in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These parents and grandparents have given much. They deserve better from us, better from the Georgia Legislature.

Georgia once had a much different attitude, an attitude at once more generous and more sharply focused on business. That attitude is what made Georgia into the dynamic, growing state, the leader in the region and nation that it has become.

Not too long ago when Alabama and Georgia were even competitors for new industry and commerce. It was an open question as to which, or both, would grow and prosper. The deciding question in that era turned was race. Many people were unsettled. There were serious issues to address. The response to race was crucial to each state's future.

Georgia had Carl Sanders, Alabama had George Wallace. Atlanta had Ivan Allen, Birmingham had Bull Connor. Georgia had leaders who were too busy to hate. Georgia still enjoys the fruits of that advantage. It has boomed in international industry and commerce.

There are new winds blowing now, not of race as such but of immigration. Many people are unsettled. There are serious issues to address. The response will be crucial to the state's future.

Perhaps Georgia now feels it has time to hate. Perhaps the Georgia Senate is trying to let Alabama catch up. At this rate, they will not have long to wait.

Let us hope that cooler heads prevail in the Georgia House of Representatives, that they notice that the state needs jobs more than it needs political posturing. Clearly, there's more than enough of that already.

John Tanner, a former Chief of the Justice Department's Voting Section, is a Washington, D.C., attorney and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Baylor Law School.