Talk to any member of the General Assembly and most of them will tell you one of their biggest goals is to bring business to the state and create more jobs.
That’s a worthy objective. I understand why legislators would adopt budgets and pass bills that are tailored to attract business development to Georgia.
What I don’t understand is why our lawmakers would then turn around and pass legislation that insults the very people they hope to bring here.
This happened last week as the House of Representatives passed a bill — HB 781 — that was introduced by one of the newest members of the Legislature: Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-Johns Creek).
If you hang around the Legislature long enough, you’ll see a lot of dumb bills introduced by lawmakers. HB 781 could very well be the dumbest bill I’ve ever had the experience of writing about.
Raffensperger’s bill would prohibit city and county governments from appointing anyone to a board, committee, or advisory council if that person is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of Georgia. In other words, he doesn’t want undocumented immigrants serving on any government-appointed body.
Rep. B. J. Pak (R-Lilburn), the first Korean-American elected to the Georgia House, knows a few things about Georgia’s immigrant communities. He said he’s never heard of an undocumented immigrant being appointed to a government agency.
“I am not aware of any,” Pak said. “This bill attempts to solve a problem that does not exist.”
HB 781, of course, is an attempt to curry favor with voters who don’t like immigrants and want to deport the ones who live here. What the bill actually does is spit on the international business people that Georgia officials are hoping will move their operations to our state.
Georgia gave Kia Motors more than $400 million in tax breaks and financial incentives to open an auto assembly plant in West Point. Under HB 781, a Kia executive who relocated here to work at that auto plant would be prohibited from serving on any advisory council or economic development commission where their international expertise might be useful.
The same thing applies to Baxter International, a healthcare products company that received a financial package worth an estimated $200 million when it agreed to locate a facility in Newton County.
Baxter has business operations all over the world. If the company wanted to relocate one of its employees from South America to Newton County, that person would also be barred by law by participating in any business advisory group appointed by one of the local governments.
“We live in an international city, we live in a state that does business globally,” said Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) during the debate over HB 781. “This seems to me a very short-sighted thing to do.”
“We spend lots of money recruiting people from other countries to make investments in this state,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur). “The message in this bill is, we want your money but we don’t want any advice from you. We want your jobs, your money, but we don’t want your expertise.”
The Legislature is also considering passage of a “religious freedom” bill that would allow people to discriminate against gays as long as they claimed they were discriminating because of a “sincerely held religious belief.”
One of the largest companies in the world is Apple, which has a market capitalization of more than $500 billion. The CEO of Apple is Tim Cook, who said this when he acknowledged he was gay:
“I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences . . . So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Do you think Tim Cook would consider, even for one microsecond, opening a business in a state that just made it legal for other people to discriminate against him? I don’t think so either.
Georgia should be trying to persuade business leaders to move here. It’s difficult to do that, however, when you’re smacking those same business leaders in the face.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.