House Speaker: Massachusetts Unlikely To Consider Sanctuary Legislation This Year
By David Jaroslav | May 11, 2018
On April 30, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) announced that “he does not anticipate bringing up a major bill on immigration policy this session”. The situation in the Bay State is already bad, but it appears there’s only a slim chance it will get any worse this year.
Without any legislation either way, Massachusetts uniquely remains a sanctuary state by court order. Ever since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion in Lunn v. Commonwealth last July, state and local law enforcement statewide have been forbidden to honor federal immigration detainers.
To respond to the Lunn decision, Republican Governor Charlie Baker introduced his own bill to try to fix it by authorizing (not requiring) law enforcement to hold people for up to twelve hours on detainers under certain circumstances, with one twelve-hour extension by judicial review. But after one committee hearing without even a vote, his bill hasn’t moved.
Representatives Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) and Shauna O’Connell (R-Taunton) filed a stronger bill than Governor Baker’s that would specifically require compliance with detainers, House Docket (HD) 4168, but this “petition” has remained in the limbo of Massachusetts’s two-step bill introduction process and never even been formally introduced or given a bill number.
The sanctuary crowd had already introduced the absurdly-named “Safe Communities Act,” in January 2017; identical sweepingly broad sanctuary bills in the House (HB 3269) and Senate (SB 1305) that would make Massachusetts into vastly more of a sanctuary than it already is under Lunn. The fight over this bill rocked back and forth across Boston’s Beacon Hill for months, the highlight being a June 2017 jam-packed hearing before the legislature’s Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security, which FAIR staff and dozens of anti-sanctuary activists attended and where Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson testified extensively against the bill. The committee waited until February 2018 to actually do anything with it, and then ordered it “sent for study.” Normally this is “a dead-end for legislation.”
Two weeks after the study order, however, the sponsors of the sanctuary bill announced a sweeping new “deal” with the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. The sponsors would agree to new language allowing (not requiring) law enforcement to hold someone for up to six hours on a detainer if they’d previously been convicted of a small number of serious offenses, or were under arrest for terrorism charges. In exchange for this one small concession, the police chiefs would support all the other new and dangerous sanctuary policies in the bill, prohibiting honoring any other detainers, immigration status inquiries, information sharing and any other assistance or cooperation with immigration authorities. However, the new legislative vehicle for this “deal”—HD 4603 by Representative Juana Matias (D-Lawrence)—immediately started drawing fire, and it too hasn’t gone anywhere since.
Once it became clear their standalone bills weren’t moving, both sides looked to get something like their language into the state’s budget instead. The illegal-alien supporters marched while their opponents, led by Representative James Lyons (R-Andover), filed an amendment to the budget: it was modeled on HD 4168 and would have required honoring detainers. But both sides failed, and the budget passed the House on April 26 without either sanctuary or anti-sanctuary provisions. Although there might be further attempts to amend them in in the Senate, that seems unlikely as such language would face the Speaker’s hostility when the two chambers ultimately conference to produce a final bill.
Speaker DeLeo has described the legislature as “fairly split in terms of where they are on this issue.” Since he said he has “to have some kind of consensus,” the lack of legislative movement in either direction suggests many legislators have reached a consensus to avoid the issue altogether, a consensus his announcement effectively made official.
Massachusetts has a full-time legislature: the current general session, which started January 1, 2017, won’t end until December 31 of this year. Unless something changes dramatically between now and then, however, DeLeo seems to have firmly set the Bay State’s post-Lunn immigration status quo in stone until at least next year. On top of that, he’s also said he’s running again for both his seat and the Speakership, which would break a record for Massachusetts’ longest serving Speaker and carry his resistance to moving either way on this issue well into 2019 and beyond.