Legislative Report – April 11, 2011

The Georgia General Assembly’s 2011 legislative session will conclude on April 14 after meeting on April 11, 12 and 14. The week of April 4-8 had little public activity since the General Assembly was in recess and many legislators were out of town for spring break. Discussions continue behind the scenes in issues related to the Church in Georgia, our ministries and our people.

Social Justice:   “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011” — House Bill 87 (Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City) and Senate Bill 40 (Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming) now contain similar language, combining the most onerous provisions of each original bill. Please encourage Catholics to contact legislators by accessing the Georgia Catholic conference website (www.georgiacc.org) action center and directly contacting their senators and representatives asking that HB 87 and SB 40 be rejected.

The combined language of House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40, as it now reads, will adversely affect Catholic parish ministries and will also have a significant impact in areas of the state that depend on agriculture. The bills retain language that criminalize “harboring” undocumented immigrants, defined as ‘any conduct that tends to substantially help an illegal alien to remain in the United States.” Sponsors have promised language that would protect charitable organizations but, to date, the only protection is afforded to those involved with children. The bill also gives little latitude to farmers who hire undocumented persons even when there are no other available workers.

Taxation: After intermittent discussion of structural tax reform, HB 387 was put on a fast track for passage until fairness questions were raised. A new version of the bill is expected but we have not had the opportunity to evaluate its effect.

Budget: The State budget effectively sets Georgia’s priorities. The proposed 2012 budget will eliminate State funding for sheltering victims of domestic violence.

House Bill 200 (Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta), which would increase penalties for human trafficking and provide greater protection for victims, passed the House of Representatives and moves to the Senate. We continue to follow and support the bill.

Abortion / Pro-Life: We continue to advocate for pro-life legislation but internal disagreements and confusion among Senate and House leadership make it likely that the 2011 session will be the fourth consecutive legislative session without prolife legislation.

Adoption: SB 278 (Sen. Shafer, R-Duluth) proposes to require that home studies be conducted prior to approval of adoptions through private attorneys. Currently, all adoption agencies, including Catholic Charities, conduct such studies prior to adoptions. The bill is vigorously opposed by private adoption interests and it currently incorporates amendments which will not allow us to support it unless changes are made.