The Georgia bill would penalize cities and counties that violate the law banning “sanctuary communities” for immigrants

ATLANTA (AP) — Some Georgia senators want to punish cities and counties that they say are harboring immigrants who are in the country without permission by eliminating most federal support for local government and removing elected officials from office.

The Senate Public Safety Committee voted 4-1 on Wednesday to rewrite it House Bill 301Advocates say the move is necessary to enforce a 2009 state law that bans so-called sanctuary cities and counties.

It's the latest measure proposed by Republicans after police charged a Venezuelan man hitting a nursing student to death on the campus of the University of Georgia.

Jose Ibarra was arrested last month on murder and assault charges in connection with the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley. According to immigration authorities, Ibarra, 26, entered the United States illegally in 2022. It is unclear whether he has applied for asylum.

Riley was a nursing student at the Athens campus of Augusta University. She was found dead on February 22 after a roommate reported that she had not returned from a staycation Morning run in a forest area.

The Senate committee has completely rewritten a bill that previously regulated penalties for speeding tickets issued by automated cameras. State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, complained that she didn't have time to read the new language before the meeting, calling it “frustrating and disappointing.”

The new bill would allow any Georgia resident to sue, asking a judge to find that a city or county is violating the 2009 law. If a judge agrees, the state would eliminate state aid as well as the federal aid it controls, except for a short list of emergency and health care services. For example, a county or city would not receive state money to build and maintain roads.

Judges could restore funding if a local government overturns the unlawful policy. A judge would then be required to issue a permanent order prohibiting the government from ever adopting a sanctuary policy again.

The bill also calls for the removal of local elected officials if cities or counties implement a protected area policy. The bill allows any Georgia resident to complain to the Board of Community Affairs. The board would hold a hearing on whether an officer is violating state law and recommend that the governor suspend the officer. The governor could then fire the official and appoint a replacement.

Officials can apply for reinstatement, but that would only happen if they can demonstrate that their service is “more likely to contribute to improving the government's ability” to comply with the anti-sanctuary law.

Republican Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula told the committee that the measure would ensure sheriff's offices comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement so they don't dodge the 2009 law.

“What we've done with this legislation is we've added some teeth because there weren't any in the past,” Robertson said.

Critics of the measure say it is another attempt by Republican lawmakers to impose their will on cities and counties, and that activists will bog down cities and counties with legal and administrative litigation.

“We have built-in accountability measures for when communities don't like what their local government or local sheriffs are doing, and that's elections. “We shouldn't use the legislature to dictate to local communities,” said Isabel Otero , policy director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Georgia.

Otero compared the measure to the previous one in Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board, which investigated complaints about local immigration enforcement. For example, then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle filed a complaint that the Atlanta suburb of Decatur violated state law in 2017, when Cagle was running for governor. The board dismissed the complaint against Decatur and a law quietly dissolved the board in 2019.

It is the second bill this year to take a tougher stance on immigration. Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 97-74 in favor of House Bill 1104, which provides support for local law enforcement Identify immigrants in the country illegally and detain them for possible deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Several Republicans said Wednesday that Athens-Clarke County would be a target of the new proposal, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting Georgians, we are taking a stand against those who seek to implement protections that violate the law and harbor criminals,” Jones said in a statement.

Athens-Clarke Mayor Kelly Girtz has denied that the consolidated city district is violating state law, noting that it provides an annual certificate of compliance. Critics point to a 2019 Athens-Clarke County Commission resolution that said the local government “strives to foster a community where people of all statuses feel safe.” However, Girtz points out that resolutions do not have the force of law.