Massachusetts Committee Hears “Mini-Sanctuary” Bills
FAIR Take | October 2021
Over the last several legislative sessions, Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced variations of a sweeping sanctuary state bill, the so-called “Safe Communities Act.” That bill has been stopped at various stages of the legislative process and it has never received a floor vote in either chamber. However, on October 12, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on two bills that, while narrower, would still impose several new and dangerous sanctuary policies.
Senate Bill (S.) 985, sponsored by Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and House Bill (H.) 1519, sponsored by Representative Michael Day (D-Stoneham), would impose three sanctuary policies statewide. They would:
- restrict access to the state’s criminal justice database for civil immigration purposes except with a judicial warrant;
- require consent and Miranda-style warnings before anyone in custody could be interviewed “for immigration investigation or enforcement purposes;” and
- restrict state court personnel, prosecutors and probation officers from providing any information to federal agencies not available to the general public, this would prohibit notifying “ federal agencies or agents of the presence of individuals attending proceedings in Massachusetts courthouses, unless required by federal law.”
In the past legislative sessions, sanctuary and driver’s licenses bills have drawn large crowds of supporters to testify in their favor, these narrower bills did not. Rather, only the bill’s opponents testified against them. Among those opposing S. 985 and H. 1519 were Maureen Maloney from Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC); Henry Barbaro, David Medeiros, John Thompson, and David Holzman with the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform (MCIR); and Deborah Dugan of the Massachusetts GOP.
The committee did not vote on the bills at the hearing, and so far no vote has been scheduled. This is not unusual in Massachusetts where there are often hearing and the votes are postponed for months.
Governor Charlie Baker (R) has repeatedly expressed opposition to the “Safe Communities Act,” and indicated he would veto it. However, he has not publicly weighed-in on these mini-sanctuary bills. If past experience is any guide, the legislature probably would not have the two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.
In 2018, the Senate passed an amendment to the state budget that included most of the Safe Communities Act, by a vote of 25-13, one vote shy of two-thirds that would have been needed for an override. This amendment was later stripped out by the House. Since then, the Senate has more members likely to support the SAFE Communities act and would likely have the two-thirds majority needed for a potential veto override.
However, a veto override in the more moderate House still appears unlikely. Former House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) repeatedly kept the House from voting on sanctuary legislation allegedly to protect vulnerable moderate Democrat members of the House from having to publicly take a position. His successor, Speaker Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), is expected to behave similarly but so far he has not expressed any views on S. 985 and H. 1519.