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Posted: February 10, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Local legislators introduce bills

Address power of health boards, immigration

Local legislators are working to correct what they see as oversights in the areas of illegal immigration and the authority of boards of health.

Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) introduced Senate Bill 136 during the 2009 legislative session, a bill that would allow some incarcerated, parole-eligible illegal aliens to be voluntarily deported.

The bill was passed by the senate 45-6 and Douglas said he expects to be voted on in the house soon.

There is already a federal program that allows for illegal aliens who go to jail to be deported when they are up for parole, called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Rapid Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer Program.

However, only certain governments in Georgia use the program, like Gwinnett County, which had more than 900 illegal aliens who were scheduled to be deported as of early 2009. Douglas wants all governments across Georgia to be able participate in the program.

Douglas said the program will save local governments money by getting prisoners out of prisons and jails more quickly. When a prisoner is up for parole, the Georgia Department of Corrections decides whether to grant that parole. In many cases, prisoners up for parole for the first time are not granted parole, Douglas said.

Under the program, illegal aliens who might not have their parole granted can now voluntarily sign up to be deported, guaranteeing they will get out of jail the first time. Douglas said they would be deported
under the general federal process, which is often an international flight that does not make any stops in the U.S.

Not every parole-eligible illegal alien will be allowed to choose deportation. That decision is made by the Department of Corrections, Douglas said. For instance, criminals who have committed more serious crimes, may be held in jail to prevent them from being released on any streets, American or foreign. Illegal aliens arrested for misdemeanor offenses are expected to be the most common deportees.

"There are no forced deportations, and illegal aliens still have to serve the same amount of time they would ordinarily serve. This does not hurry up their parole," Douglas said. "However, a lot of these criminals have been in jail before, and hopefully this would prevent them from being in jail again, and prevent the counties from having to pick up any future costs by providing them a jail cell and meals later on."

Deportation cost money, but the majority of this cost would be covered by the federal government.

The bill also addresses any deported aliens who return to the U.S. and commit another crime. These criminals would then have to serve the remainder of their original sentence, plus the jail time of any additional sentences, all without parole.

"The fact is that many of these people are career criminals that are taking advantage of the taxpayers in this country, including being her illegally in the first place. In a difficult economic time we’re trying to relieve a little burden from the taxpayer by sending these people back to their homes," he said.

Holt wants oversight over local boards of health

While Douglas bill is in its final stages, Rep. Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) introduced a new bill last week, House Bill 1056, to give business and residents a way to address conflicts with their local boards of health.

Holt has long had a problem with the autonomous nature of some authorities and related bodies like boards of health. Last year, the debate between local restaurateurs and the Newton County health inspectors over restaurant inspections and scores brought the issue back to the forefront.

"Some of my most difficult and unsatisfactorily resolved constituent issues have been my interactions with a county board of health … they have pretty significant powers, yet as independent authorities, there is no significant chain of command or anybody that they answer to, specifically anybody elected directly by the people," Holt said.

He said the board of health oversees everything from restaurants to septic tanks to swimming pools and it has the ability to issue fines and punish businesses. He said it can force restaurants to shut down or make improvements that can cost thousands or tens of thousand of dollars, without giving the owner any effective appeals process.

"I can’t assume they can always respond satisfactorily to a constituent, but it’s hard to really focus on a complaint when there is no downside to the board from an organizational point of view," Holt said.

To solve this problem, Holt’s bill would give local legislators the ability to form a legislative oversight panel to deal with constituent concerns regarding the local board of health.

For example, if a legislator in Newton County heard a complaint from a constituent, he could call for a panel to be formed to hear the complaint. This panel would automatically be formed by the county’s local legislation, in this case Holt, Douglas and Reps. Toney Collins and John Lunsford. Any of the legislators could also appoint a local elected official, like a commissioner or city council or school board member, to serve in their place.

The panel would then hear evidence regarding the complaint and would be able to issue subpoenas to compel any board member or employee of the board of health to appear, give sworn testimony, or produce documentary or other evidence.

The panel would then make a recommendation to the governor who would make the final ruling.

"The bill is coalesced around the idea that we can’t do direct intervention because the boards are created by the executive branch. However, there should be some way for the average Joe, who has an unsatisfactory interaction, there should be somebody to turn to who is elected by the people," Holt said.

Holt said he doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the local board of health, but he believes there is a systemic problem. The bill is likely to undergo several revisions as it reviewed by the health and human services committee and other.

Other bills

Douglas said the legislation to form a Covington Municipal Airport Authority was introduced by him into the senate yesterday as Senate Bill 376.

He’s also planning to introduce a bill soon to allow Porterdale to institute a Homestead Tax Exemption.

Finally, Douglas said he will soon introduce legislation to rename part of Ga. Highway 36, from Henderson Mill Road to Ga. Highway 212, as Roy and Aaron Varner Highway. The father and son were both county chairmen and long-time public and private servants in the county, and Douglas said they deserved to have a road named after them. Last year, for similar reasons, Jack and Davis Morgan had part of U.S. Highway 278 named after them.

To view any bill go to legis.ga.gov and type in the appropriate bill number.

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