The people who run the Georgia Legislature have been wandering off in some strange and contradictory directions over the past few years.
When you consider the mood swings that seem to have affected our lawmakers, you might even think that they’ve gone off their medication.
A little more than 15 years ago, legislators passed a law that required Georgians to submit a fingerprint for display on their drivers’ licenses. After the fingerprint law had been in effect for several years, legislators decided they didn’t like it anymore. In 2005, they reversed themselves and passed a bill that eliminated the fingerprints on licenses and required the state to destroy the fingerprint records.
Shortly before the fingerprint requirement was repealed, another bill was passed that allowed people to renew their drivers’ licenses simply by going online and filling out a form. This made life a lot easier for Georgia drivers.
Less than 10 years after making it more convenient to renew a driver’s license, legislative sentiment has swung back again.
The General Assembly has now passed a bill that requires anyone applying for a new or renewed license to produce reams of documentation. This paperwork includes an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, an original Social Security card, and two documents attesting to the fact that you really live at your listed address.
That’s a lot of documentation for something that until recently could be done in a few minutes online. Many people don’t have their original birth certificate or no longer possess the Social Security card that was initially issued to them and have to go to considerable time and expense to track down a copy.
When the new law took effect last week, the results were predictable. People trying to get a license suddenly learned they would have to produce paperwork they no longer had. Applicants who weren’t forced to leave the licensing station and return home in search of documents had to wait five or six hours to make it through the long lines of people who were all being asked to show their papers.
In the space of 15 years, then, our lawmakers have forced us to give fingerprints to get drivers’ licenses, then removed that requirement and made it easier to renew a license, and now have made the process much more difficult and time-consuming. This makes no sense at all.
We’ve seen similar contradictory behavior on the issue of business regulations.
House Speaker David Ralston appointed a special legislative committee to figure out how state regulations could be reduced or eliminated to make it easier for business owners to run their enterprises. All these regulations, Ralston said, are “a real and serious problem out there in our economy” that are “causing hardships on our businesses.”
Ralston was correct that business owners often get bogged down by having to comply with duplicative or unnecessary regulations. While the speaker called for an end to these regulations, however, he and his colleagues also passed an immigration law that imposed burdensome paperwork requirements on small and large businesses alike by requiring them to verify the citizenship status of their employees.
I run a one-person business that provides political news coverage for a variety of media outlets. I was born in an Atlanta hospital, was educated in Georgia schools and have resided here for more than half a century. There shouldn’t be any question at all about my citizenship.
Because of the immigration law passed by the Legislature, I now have to spend hours upon hours filling out forms, tracking down documentation, and finding notary publics to attest to my signature so that I can “prove” I’m an American citizen and continue to run my business.
I know I am not alone here. I’m sure that those who run larger businesses have to spend much more time than I do complying with all the requirements of this immigration law. To what end?
The point is this: our elected leaders should make up their minds and decide whether they’re going to make life easier on the people who elect them, or make things harder. Pick one or the other. Just stop swinging back and forth between the two extremes all the time.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)