Legislative Update: Sanctuary Bills Die in Washington State, May Be Revived in Massachusetts
By David Jaroslav | March 19, 2018
As most legislatures accelerated into high gear in February, two states stayed out of the sanctuary column at least for now.
Despite sanctuary states Oregon and California to its south, and despite numerous sanctuary cities and counties within its borders, Washington State won’t be turning the whole West Coast into a sanctuary for illegal aliens. The legislature reached its mid-session cutoff date on February 14, the last day to consider bills in their chamber of origin. By that point, the House of Representatives had never even set its bill, HB 1985, for a committee hearing.
The Senate came much closer. Its extreme and dangerous bill, SB 5689, the absurdly named “Keep Washington Working Act,” combined most of the worst features of sanctuary policies adopted around the country, and would have prevented all state and local government law enforcement agencies and offices from:
- Asking anyone about their immigration status;
- Honoring immigration detainers without a judicial criminal warrant;
- Honoring notification requests from immigration authorities;
- Providing nonpublic information to immigration authorities, or from granting access to illegal aliens in their custody for interviews;
- Using their funds, personnel or facilities to assist or cooperate with immigration enforcement in any way, a provision largely borrowed from next-door neighbor Oregon, the nation’s oldest sanctuary state (since 1987).
It would have also required the state’s Attorney General to create model policies for schools, hospitals, shelters and courthouses to try to keep out federal immigration officers “to the fullest extent possible,” and required those model policies or “an equivalent policy” to be adopted by all of those facilities.
On January 17, SB 5689 passed the Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce on a party-line vote. On February 6, it passed the Ways & Means Committee on another party-line vote. The Senate Rules Committee referred it to the floor for Second Reading on February 12, giving it just the two days it would’ve needed to be voted out of the Senate by February 14. But despite the state’s apple growers trying to give it an extra push to protect their supply of cheap illegal labor, the Rules Committee officially acknowledged the bill was dead by sending it to their “X File,” on February 22.
After months of intense pressure from citizen activists and FAIR Staff who rose up against dangerous sanctuary laws at a large gathering on Boston’s Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security finally acted. On February 5, the Bay State’s sanctuary bills, Senate Bill 1305 and House Bill 3269, absurdly labeled the “Safe Communities Act” were “sent to study.” In Massachusetts, a committee filing a so-called study order is a face-saving way for it not to move a bill forward without having to vote it down: “[t]he vast majority of bills sent to a study order do not progress any further in the legislative process.” The reasonable assumption at that point was that the bill was dead, as such bills almost always are.
Yet within weeks, the bill’s prospects were revived by a troubling alliance between the illegal alien activists represented by its original supporters, and the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. On February 20, the chiefs announced they would throw their support behind the bills in exchange for new language that would allow (not require) “law enforcement to hold someone on an ICE detainer for up to six hours in cases where a detainee has prior criminal convictions for serious violent offenses such as sexual assault, abuse or exploitation, drug trafficking, human trafficking, or domestic violence, or if the detainee is under arrest on terrorism charges.” In exchange for this one very narrow compromise, the police chiefs would support the rest of the bill’s recklessly dangerous provisions: prohibiting honoring any other detainers; inquiries about immigration status; release-date information sharing; and use of personnel or funds for any other assistance or cooperation.
However, just as declarations of the bill’s death may have proved premature, so did those of its revival and passage being a foregone conclusion. Barely a week after the “deal” was announced, one Democratic legislator (Dave Nangle of Lowell) had already begun to call for weakening it, and while Republican Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t yet officially threatened a veto, his Public Safety and Security Secretary, Daniel Bennett, has publicly come out strongly against it. Bennett is particularly concerned that the bill endangers the Department of Corrections’ 287(g) agreement with ICE, which allows them to screen all inmates for possible immigration enforcement, keeping in mind that everyone in state prison unlike local jails, has already been convicted and sentenced for a felony.
The language of the sanctuary “deal” has been “docketed” with the House Clerk, as HD 4603, under the name of the House sponsor, Representative Juana Matias, but still not formally introduced and assigned a bill number. In Massachusetts this is a two-step process: a legislator files a bill with the Clerk and it receives a docket number (HD or SD); once it is placed on the Orders of the Day, it is considered formally introduced, receives a bill number (HB or SB), and is referred to committee. It seems something may be keeping this “deal” from taking that second step.
What happens next, and whether Massachusetts becomes a sanctuary state or not, may turn on whether the leadership of both chambers’ Democratic majorities want to push the issue forward, or move on to higher public policy priorities. Encouragingly, while House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop hasn’t been heard from yet on the “deal,” he has repeatedly expressed skepticism and opposition in the past to imposing sanctuary policies statewide, and has even been attacked by fellow Democrats as “ ‘tone deaf’ to [the] progressive agenda.” On the other hand, Senate President Harriette Chandler of Worcester has only been in the chair since December 4, but given her past legislative record, may be more receptive to it. Should the “deal” or something like it ultimately pass and Governor Baker veto it, the Democrats have the numbers for a two-thirds vote to override, but only if they all stick together.
Opponents of dangerous sanctuary policies should be applauded for doing a remarkable job against heavy odds so far in slowing them down in Massachusetts, but will need to keep the pressure on.