Oklahoma Anti-Sanctuary Bills Advance But Face Uncertain Future
FAIR Take | April 2021
Three different anti-sanctuary bills have been moving in the Oklahoma state legislature’s 2021 session, and all three have passed their chamber of origin. Sooners may have their best chance yet to ban dangerous reckless sanctuary policies, but only if they act quickly and ensure these bills are top priorities for their state lawmakers.
Senate Bill (SB) 572, sponsored by Senator Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) broadly defines and bans sanctuary policies, while SB 781 by Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) and House Bill (HB) 2774 by Representative John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando) are identical companion bills that more narrowly focus solely on requiring state and local law enforcement to honor federal immigration detainers. Detainers are legal requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold illegal aliens for up to 48 hours after their release on state charges so that ICE has time to pick them up and begin or resume the deportation process.
SB 572 contains an enforcement mechanism: it authorizes the state’s Attorney General (AG) to issue a formal opinion as to whether a local government or state agency has a sanctuary policy, and if so that entity becomes ineligible for state funds until the sanctuary policy is eliminated. The narrower detainer bills do not have an express enforcement mechanism.
In March the Senate bills passed the Senate and the House bill was voted out of the House. Subsequently, each chamber considered the other chamber’s bills in committee, including a March 30 hearing by the House Public Safety Committee on SB 572 where FAIR staff submitted testimony in support of the bill. All three bills have been voted out of committee in their opposite chambers but not yet set for floor votes.
Senator Dahm noted, “[l]ast session my bill made it part way through the legislature before the pandemic stalled out session … Now we can see how it is even more necessary to get this bill passed to ensure the rule of law is followed in our state and protect the citizens of Oklahoma even as Joe Biden seeks to put the interests of law-breaking foreigners over us.”
Oklahoma’s legislative session is officially scheduled to adjourn on May 28. However, with very few exceptions, most bills that have passed one chamber must pass the second by April 22, then leaving the two chambers with roughly a month to reconcile any differences between them.
Should any of the bills pass both chambers in identical form, Governor Kevin Stitt (R) has not taken a public position on them, and his track record on immigration issues is not particularly encouraging, given that in 2019 he chose to consent to additional refugee resettlement in Oklahoma despite then-President Trump’s executive order allowing states and localities to opt out.
If the governor did veto any of the bills, the legislature’s overwhelming GOP supermajorities are both able and willing to override his veto, as they have several times in the past on other issues. However, if a bill were sent to him late enough in session, he could “pocket-veto” it, by not signing it within 15 days of adjournment: the legislature would then have no opportunity to override this. Pocket vetoes in Oklahoma are rare but become a possibility for bills passed in the last five days of session.