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Georgia Senate committee advances ‘sanctuary’ campus bill

A Senate committee advanced legislation Monday that would punish colleges within the state that declare themselves “sanctuaries” for students living in the country illegally.

“If you’re not willing to follow the law, if you’re not willing to enable the enforcement of the law … then state funds are not going to follow you,” said state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a Republican from Powder Springs and sponsor of House Bill 37. “If you want to claim sanctuary status, which effectively ignores any statutory construction, then we as a state are going to say that’s not acceptable. You, as a private institution, can make that choice.”

MORE: Georgia bill tracker 2017

At the beginning of the meeting, Higher Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar announced that he received a memo regarding possible conflicts between the bill and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects student privacy.

“There could be a conflict, but it doesn’t warn of any conflicts financially, so on that basis alone, I’m going to let the bill go forward,” the Atlanta Republican said. “By the time we get to the floor, I may have something from legislative counsel. At this late a date, I’m not going to hold something up because I got a memo two hours before.”

The bill, which passed the state House 112-57, would restrict funds for universities that violate state and federal law by adopting polices that protect students who are living in the U.S. illegally. HOPE grants could be taken away from students under this bill.

In Monday’s hearing, Ehrhart rejected fault for stripping students of financial assistance under his bill.

“If the administration in an institution chooses not to follow the law, then they’re the ones responsible for that loss of scholarship,” he said. “Certainly not the legal construct set at the state level.”

Emory University in Atlanta issued a statement in November that said the school would continue to support “Dreamers,” who were granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation by an executive order from then-President Barack Obama, but the school backed away from the sanctuary campus label in late January.

“We’re basically putting something out here that says: ‘Look, we know this has been brought forward before. It’s now gone away. The purpose of this legislation is it not be brought back up again,’ ” Millar said, adding that would be “clarifying and adding to the particular current law.”

“Or muddying the water and unclarifying,” countered state Sen. Nan Orrock, the sole lawmaker on the committee to vote against its passage.

“Since it’s not broke, what are we fixing?” she said. “You’re proposing legislation to address something that doesn’t exist.”

The bill will be carried in the Senate by Jeff Mullis, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who sets the agenda of what will be voted on.

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