Georgia Senate OKs immigration legislation

| 3/3/2008

A pair of bills that would crack down on illegal immigration in Georgia has reached the halfway point in the statehouse. One bill would toughen penalties for driving without a license in the state while the other would outlaw “sanctuary” cities.

Another bill would allow police to seize vehicles driven by illegal immigrants.

The Senate voted 38-13 to advance a bill to the House that would apply to people driving without a valid driver’s license, or a suspended or revoked license. Driving with an expired license would not apply. People who obtain legal licenses would have their cases dismissed.

Sen. John Wiles, R-Kennesaw, said the change is needed to strengthen rules in the state on unlicensed driving.

“Our current code allows unlicensed drivers a certain amount of leniency,” Wiles said in a written statement. “We need to let those who blatantly ignore the most basic laws of our state know that our laws are serious.”

Driving without a license or driving on a suspended, disqualified or revoked license could result in two days in jail. Second or third offenses within five years would result in at least 10 days in jail and at least $1,000 fines. Subsequent offenses within five years would result in felony charges. Offenders would face one to five years in jail and up to $5,000 fines.

The bill – SB350 – is awaiting consideration in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

Another measure would cut state funding to local governments that do not cooperate with federal officials trying to enforce immigration laws. The Senate approved the bill on a 45-8 vote. It now moves to the House.

Sponsored by Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, the bill would prohibit government agencies from enacting policies that give sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

Advocates for the bill point out that law enforcement agencies in some states make it a policy for their officers to not ask suspects about their immigration status. In fact, there are 60 so-called sanctuary cities throughout the nation that are recognized by rule or regulation, The Associated Press reported.

While there aren’t cities in Georgia with a sanctuary policy, Pearson said the rule is needed to address the matter in case that changes in the future.

Pearson’s bill – SB340 – is awaiting consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.

A House bill would let police seize vehicles, including large trucks, from illegal immigrants. Sponsored by Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, the measure would allow law enforcement to take vehicles registered in the state that are involved in traffic violations or wrecks if they are driven by illegal immigrants.

Rented and leased vehicles would be included if it is determined owners should have known the driver was an illegal immigrant.

Supporters say the bill would help improve safety on roads. Opponents say it would create an atmosphere of racial profiling for traffic stops. Others say the measure doesn’t provide due process for taking vehicles.

The bill – HB978 – is in the House Rules Committee. The panel will decide whether to advance the effort to the House floor for a vote.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Georgia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor