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Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 3:02pm

HB 87 Having Unintended Consequences

Agriculture and hospitality industry officials told state Senators Wednesday that the new immigration bill continues to hurt Georgia companies. One official said some businesses are beginning to avoid hiring people with ethnic last names.

The new law exempts only the smallest firms from having to use the federal E-Verify immigration check system to screen workers. That means it won't exempt many restaurants in the state.

Karen Bremer heads the Georgia Restaurant Association. She said the average restaurant in Georgia employs 38 people. And she testified that her industry’s turnover rate is so high that the average restaurant will have to screen new employees about 70 times each year.

At a hearing organized by Senate Democrats, she said some restaurant owners are already taking precautions.

“We’ve had comments that some restaurants are uncomfortable now at this point hiring anybody who has an Hispanic surname or an Asian surname,” she said.

Bremer said that's largely because restaurant owners can't screen workers until they have already taken the time and expense to hire them.

Farming officials already have said the law scared away migrant workers during the spring harvest, leaving crops to rot in the field. They reiterated their comments Wedneday at the hearing. Charles Hall of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association said his industry is still sorting out the effects of the labor shortage in the spring.

"This year is an unknown," he told Senators.

A federal judge has blocked two of the law’s provisions, including one allowing the police to check the immigration status of some criminal suspects. The rest of the bill went into effect on July 1.

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