Bill To Expand California’s Sanctuary Law Defeated
FAIR Take | September 2022
Despite an aggressive push by open-borders groups, a bill that would have expanded California’s reckless sanctuary-state policies failed to pass the Senate on the last night of the legislative session.
California became a sanctuary state in 2017 with the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 54. SB 54 effectively banned most state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. However, when former Governor Jerry Brown (D) threatened to veto the bill, there was a legislative compromise that permitted law enforcement officers to cooperate with immigration officials if an illegal alien had been convicted of a specified serious or violent crime. SB 54 also specifically did not apply to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which runs the state’s prison system that currently houses, by its own estimate, approximately 102,945 inmates convicted of felonies. A FAIR study estimates that between local jails and state and federal prisons, 12.7 percent of the incarcerated population in California are illegal aliens, which is almost twice the 7.1 percent of the total remaining prison population.
Assembly Bill (AB) 937, the so-called VISION Act (“Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors”), was sponsored and introduced by Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) on February 17, 2021. The “VISION Act” would have eliminated the exceptions in SB 54 and prohibited any cooperation with federal immigration enforcement for illegal aliens, even those convicted of the most heinous crimes. It also applied sanctuary policies to the CDCR. Oregon, Washington, Illinois, and Connecticut have already enacted these policies.
AB 937 moved steadily through the legislative process in the Assembly in 2021. It passed the Public Safety Committee on April 6, the Judiciary Committee on April 20 and the Appropriations Committee on May 20. The full Assembly then passed AB 937 on June 3, 2021, by a vote of 42-21.
Initially in the Senate, AB 937 seemed poised to pass. It advanced through the Public Safety Committee on July 13 and the Appropriations Committee on August 26. However, as it began to move, opponents, especially law enforcement and the CDCR, became more vocal. Senators from both parties raised their concerns with the bill and it was ordered to the Senate’s “inactive file” on September 10, 2021.
On August 23, 2022, the bill was revived from the inactive file. It was ordered to third reading on August 24. On August 31, the last day of the legislative session, the Senate debated and then voted on AB 937. In order to pass, 21 senators were required to vote in favor of the bill. The Senate vote was 18-13 so it was defeated. Four Democrats joined all the Republicans in opposition to AB 937 and nine Democrats abstained. In order for the California Senate to pass a bill, a majority of “sitting” Senators need to vote in favor of it, not just a majority of the senators voting. Therefore, the nine abstentions had the same effect as a “no” vote.
Senator Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) stated that she voted against the bill because she recognized it would endanger public safety. She said, “at the end of the day, the job I have is to ensure my community is safe and to do everything I can to ensure the safety of my constituents.”
Despite a push for reconsideration of the vote by open-borders groups, the Senate adjourned.
While both chambers are scheduled to return on December 5, AB 937 will not be considered then since they will only be in session to organize the new legislature elected in November. In order to reconsider the Senate vote on AB 937, a special session would need to be called and Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has not indicated his intent to call one.