Under a new state law aimed at shifting illegal residents out of Georgia, large employers including farms now risk losing their business licenses if they hire illegal labor.
Some farmers, ranchers, packers and other agriculture-related businesses are not very happy with that, but a proposed federal path for recruiting legal migrant labor is unlikely before watermelon seeds go in the ground this spring.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in getting it done,” said state Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, days after he had a briefing on the federal Harvest Act, a proposal by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. Chambliss’ bill would enable foreign agriculture workers to labor in the U.S. year-round for a set number of years.
The Harvest Act would reform the unpopular federal H-2A visa program, which allows agricultural operations to order foreign seasonal labor, but only under rules that don’t fit all farms, especially the smallest. A state Department of Agriculture study from late 2011 reported that less than 4 percent of respondents use it and that overall, there’s “a lack of familiarity and negative perception of the Federal H2-A.”
But the Department of Agriculture is not yet sure how much agriculture relies on illegal labor.
“Initial findings indicate that immigration reform is having an impact on agriculture, but results are inconclusive,” the study reads.
The law is rolling out in steps and eventually will apply to any business with 10 or more employees. It was not in effect in 2011. The Department of Agriculture recommends another survey in late 2012.
In the meantime, farmers who might normally use illegal labor can contract with labor firms that provide work crews guaranteed to be legal or try to recruit local workers. But the agriculture study found something else: that recruiting through the Georgia Department of Labor is even more unsatisfactory than H-2A.
Bill to force maintenance on foreclosures
A Senate panel is fast-tracking a bill that’s meant to clean up foreclosed properties. House Bill 110, by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, creates a state database of detailed information on foreclosed properties and requires those property owners -- like banks -- to keep the houses up to code or face a fine of up to $2,000.
“This is a consumer-friendly bill because it requires foreclosed properties to be maintained,” said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee chairman, ahead of the 6-2 vote of approval. Because the committee passed the bill so early in the session, it will move straight to the Senate floor for debate, bypassing the Rules Committee.
Peake joins Rules Committee
State House leaders have chosen state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, for the Capitol’s equivalent of the varsity squad. He’s been made a member of the House Rules Committee, the council of 30 legislators who guard the door to the House floor. They decide what gets a chance at debate and passage and what does not.
-- Compiled by Maggie Lee