Catholic Lobbyist Summarizes 2008 Georgia Session
Published: May 1, 2008
ATLANTA—Georgia drivers could suffer stiffer fines and even lose their cars if Gov. Sonny Perdue enacts two pieces of legislation into law aimed at illegal immigrants, according to the Georgia Catholic Conference.
The chief lobbyist for the Catholic Church in Georgia said lawmakers cast a wide net to combat illegal immigration and residents may be caught up in it.
“It is aimed at illegal immigrants, but it could affect anybody. It’s really out of proportion to reality,” said Frank Mulcahy, who is the executive director for the Georgia Catholic Conference. The Catholic conference, representing the bishops of the Atlanta Archdiocese and the Savannah Diocese, uses Catholic social teaching to influence law making in the Georgia General Assembly.
Overall, the Catholic point of view “did fairly well” during the session, said Mulcahy.
Some efforts can be considered a success as lobbying “watered down what was a terrible bill into a bad bill,” he said.
The Catholic conference worked to kill some initiatives during the 40-day legislative session and joined efforts with others to see some bills become law.
The clock is ticking. The state legislature ended its spring session April 4. Perdue has until May 14 to veto the proposed laws.
The conference has started a letter-writing campaign, urging people to call, write or e-mail the governor’s office to urge him to use his veto pen on two driving-related bills aimed at people in this country illegally.
These two bills are among some 300 legislative proposals to be considered before the deadline, said Bert Brantley, spokesperson for Perdue.
The governor wants Georgia to be a “welcoming, hospitable place for people who are here legally,” Brantley said.
“We want to strike the balance between being a welcoming state with also upholding the rule of law and making sure the people who are here are abiding by the rules and regulations,” Brantley said.
In 2006, Perdue signed SB 529. The law required that local and state governments verify the immigration status of adults before they receive taxpayer-supported benefits in Georgia, among other provisions.
Brantley said the governor considered the law “pretty reasonable,” while the two Georgia Catholic bishops criticized its implementation.
The Georgia Catholic Conference appealed to the governor to oppose the two driving-related bills because they are contrary to the church’s teaching about human dignity and fairness from government. One does away with the discretion of a police officer during a traffic stop. The law requires an automobile to be towed away if the driver does not have a license. The legislation is HB 978.
Even if a passenger has a license and could legally be behind the wheel, the proposal does not allow it, said Mulcahy. And if the car or truck is impounded, the owner of the private lot has a financial interest in keeping the car longer so the person reclaiming the vehicle may face obstacles before the car is released, he said.
Another problem is that people who move to Georgia and who miss the 30-day deadline to get a state license might have their cars impounded with this law, Mulcahy said.
A second piece of legislation is SB 350 that stiffens the penalty for driving a car or truck without a license.
Currently, people risk two days in jail and must pay a fine for driving with a suspended or revoked license, according to Mulcahy. The proposal expands the penalty for anyone convicted of driving without a license and comes with a $500 fine for the first offense. It become a felony offense on the fourth conviction within five years.
Mulcahy said even people passing through the state on their way to Florida could face criminal charges for the minor mistake. The proposal allows Georgia residents to waive the penalty if a state license is produced, but not for an out-of-state license, according to Mulcahy.
Another objection is that the proposal requires people convicted of this crime to have their fingerprints entered into the computer records of the Georgia Crime Information database. Mulcahy said those records were established to hold information about the most serious criminals, not people who simply drive without a license.
The 2008 session included a range of other proposals, from pro-life legislation to education.
One newly minted law the conference backed was establishing education tax credits that benefit private school students. The law allows people and corporations to make donations to nonprofit education groups that pass the money on as student scholarships in private schools. The credit is limited to $1,000 for individuals or to $2,500 for married couples. The state has set a $50 million ceiling on credits that would help students.
The measure was opposed by the Georgia PTA organization. It claimed the legislature is already starving public schools and this measure hurts the state’s coffers that pay for public education. However, Mulcahy said the measure could be “a plus” for the Catholic schools and benefactors.
A proposal to amend the state’s Constitution split the Georgia bishops from a position taken by some pro-life groups during the legislative session. The bishops came out against the Human Life Amendment, which would have recognized that an embryo shares the same rights as a person. Mulcahy stated the bishops’ position in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill was killed when it never came up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
“I do not believe that our relationship with pro-life legislators was altered. As lobbyists on behalf of the bishops of Georgia, we cannot offer legislators anything but our Catholic moral principles and our best assessment of legislation in light of those principles. We did not lobby against the Human Life Amendment, but we did make the bishops’ statement on HR 536 available to the legislative leadership, and we responded when legislators approached us with questions. We did not ask any legislator to support or oppose HR 536,” Mulcahy said in response to an e-mail.