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Higher ed provision stripped from immigration bill

ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia lawmakers on Tuesday stripped a provision that would have barred illegal immigrants from state colleges, universities and technical schools from a bill making its way through the state Legislature.

The bill's author Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said the bill lacked the support to move to the House floor with that language. The rest of the bill's provisions were important enough that he told House leaders he wouldn't object to striking the higher education provisions to get the bill to the House floor, he said.

"There's other provisions in there that we really need to streamline the process of identification and also security," Loudermilk said. "Instead of just jeopardizing all this when we didn't have the support for the education part, I told them to pull that off if we need to and move forward with the rest of it."

The bill still makes some tweaks to last year's law targeting illegal immigration, notably to the requirements for applicants for public benefits and to acceptable forms of identification for certain government transactions. The House adjourned Tuesday without debating the bill. If it passes on Thursday -- the next and final day lawmakers are meeting this year -- it would still have to go back to the Senate before final passage.

Last year's law required any applicant for public benefits -- which include food stamps and professional licenses, among other things -- to provide a "secure and verifiable" document proving their legal presence in the country. Some agencies had expressed concern that the requirement would cause extra work for staffers, potentially delaying the administration of the benefits.

This year's legislation says applicants may submit their documents any time within nine months prior to the application deadline as long as the documents are still valid at the time the public benefit is administered and for the duration of the benefit. The bill also says that U.S. citizens renewing an application for a public benefit do not need to resubmit the documents each time they apply to renew a benefit with the same agency. Applicants who are not U.S. citizens would have to submit the documents each time they apply.

Last year's law charged the state attorney general with coming up with a list of acceptable secure and verifiable documents. The list issued by Attorney General Sam Olens includes a passport issued by a foreign government. Loudermilk's legislation says foreign passports should only be acceptable if they are submitted along with valid federal immigration paperwork specifying that the person is in the country legally.

The bill also adds U.S. birth certificates to the list of secure and verifiable documents and excludes foreign birth certificates unless they are accompanied by certification of the person's legal presence in the country.

A change to the bill offered Tuesday says a secure and verifiable document is not needed to obtain a marriage license and utility services related to basic human necessities. This change comes after concerns were raised that the exclusion of foreign passports from the list of secure and verifiable documents unless accompanied by federal immigration papers could prevent illegal immigrants from being able to get a marriage license in the state or to access water and sewage services.

A variety of people, including the chancellor of Georgia's university system, had testified in legislative committees against the provisions of the bill that would have barred illegal immigrants from state institutions of higher learning.

Already, illegal immigrants are effectively barred from the most competitive state schools by an October 2010 Board of Regents policy that prohibits any school that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from accepting illegal immigrants. That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University. Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.