The Senate debated and passed two very important bills last week. The Immigration Bill (SB 2179) was brought to the Senate floor from the Judiciary A Committee by Chairman Fillingane. The bill is an attempt to enact a good concept: creation of a state-federal partnership to enforce immigration law. Like many good ideas around the Capitol, when the bill was drafted and presented it contained some troubling language.
In presenting the bill, the chairman immediately offered multiple amendments due to what were characterized as clerical errors. Several other amendments were offered by other senators, including myself, during the nearly 4-hour debate. The bill was over 700-lines long and many felt that there had not been sufficient time allowed to adequately analyze such a comprehensive bill. Thus, the members were learning of the contents of the bill on-the-fly, so to speak. In fact, the process brought to mind what it must have been like for the U.S. Congress to consider the health care overhaul last year. There was simply too much to swallow in too little time.
However, it was clear right away that a portion of the bill would be objectionable to a large number of members, as well as the law enforcement community and municipalities. The bill includes a provision that creates a new lawsuit that can be filed by citizens against law enforcement authorities and the public entities for which they work if it is felt that the law enforcement authorities have a policy of not adequately enforcing federal immigration law. If the citizen prevails in the lawsuit, they can be awarded attorneys fees and expenses of litigation against the county or town. If the law enforcement authority wins, it can be awarded attorneys fees and costs as well. In addition, if the county or town loses, they can be assessed a fine of $5,000.00 per day for every day the policy under attack has existed.
Many members of the Senate felt strongly that it would be bad policy to allow lawsuits against law enforcement under these circumstances. The bill clearly imposes additional responsibilities on local law enforcement without a good funding mechanism. That alone is burdensome to local governments already straining to provide services with scante resources. However, to also subject local government to a newly created lawsuit goes too far. That is why I offered an amendment to strip out the lawsuit language during the debate. My amendment had the support of the Mississippi Chiefs of Police, the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association, and the Mississippi Municipal League. Despite the inherent unfairness of the lawsuit provisions, and despite the opposition to those provisions by local government and law enforcement, the bill passed with the lawsuit language in tact.
The bill will now be sent to the House where I hope the lawsuit provisions will be removed. If they are not, I will not vote for the bill.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Sen. David Baria's press release concerning SB 2179
Sen. David Baria has issued a press release covering the lawsuits created by SB 2179 and his efforts to have it removed. Here's the portion of the release covering that: