The bill, filed Thursday, Feb.16, by State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, and sponsor, State Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, also adjusts some identification requirements for applicants for public benefits laid out in last year's tough law targeting illegal immigration, making some requirements stricter and loosening others.
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 -- including Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office, which handles many professional licenses -- had expressed concern the requirement would cause extra work for his staff that could delay the issuing or renewal of licenses.
The bill 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.
"One of the things I don't think was thought through very well was the fact that if you're a citizen of the United States, your citizenship doesn't change unless you voluntarily move and change your citizenship," Loudermilk said Tuesday. "With 99.999 percent of the people, their citizenship doesn't change, so there shouldn't be a need for them every year, or with every benefit agency, to go through the same process."
The new bill also clarifies a section in last year's law that says the documents may be submitted in person, by mail or electronically, explaining that electronic submission includes "facsimile, Internet, electronic texting, or any other electronically assisted transmission."
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. The new legislation says that 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 addresses illegal immigrants pursuing postsecondary education in the state.
"[The bill] clarifies what the intent of the law was that we passed in 2006 that the public colleges and universities in the state of Georgia are a public benefit because the universities, colleges and technical schools receive taxpayer dollars and so the tuition is subsidized by the taxpayer," Loudermilk said. "We've had instances, as people will be testifying in our upcoming [legal] hearings, where American citizens including veterans and active duty military have been denied a seat at colleges because their classes were full, it turns out illegal immigrants were in those classes, and so we know that legal citizens are being turned away because there are illegal immigrants in there."
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.
The university system chancellor told committee members at last month's hearing he believes the system's current policies regarding illegal immigrants are adequate.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.