'Sanctuary city' ban, food stamp crackdown passes Senate
Posted September 24, 2015
Updated January 1, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — The Senate gave tentative approval Thursday to a proposal banning local "sanctuary" ordinances and limiting food assistance for able-bodied, childless, unemployed adults.
House Bill 318 began as a requirement for all government agencies, state and local, to use E-Verify to check the legal status of applicants and contractors, an expansion of a law previously passed. It also forbids government agencies or law enforcement from using consular or embassy documents to verify identity or residence.
The measure picked up additional provisions along the way, including a ban on the enactment of "sanctuary city" ordinances by any local governments in North Carolina. Bill supporters say there are "seven or eight" in the state, but named only Durham, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Chatham County and Charlotte – cities Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, referred to as "liberal bastions."
Supporters of "sanctuary city" ordinances, which instruct law enforcement not to check citizens' immiggration status or report suspected undocumented immigrants to federal authorities unless a violent crime is involved, say they improve community safety by encouraging undocumented immigrants to report crimes to police and by allowing police to focus on crime prevention rather than immigration enforcement.
Tillman ccalled them "lackadaisical liberal policies" and blamed San Francisco's ordinance for the July killing of Kathryn Steinle by an undocumented immigrant with a violent past.
"All that is is a welcome mat to come on in if you’re a criminal and you’re illegally here and whether you’ve been deported or not, just come on, the door’s open," Tillman said. "I would be ashamed to be a city that had a policy like that. What in the world is wrong with reporting criminals?
"Any city that would do that needs their charter revoked," he said, adding that he will work to add financial penalties to the bill for cities that defy the ban.
"You’re looking to revoke the charter for the city of Charlotte?" asked Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg.
"More than happy to if I could," Tillman shot back.
No more exemptions to food stamp work requirements
Another section added to the bill would ban the state Department of Health and Human Services from seeking waivers to extend food assistance for able-bodied, unemployed adults without children.
Under federal law, food assistance for such adults is supposed to last only for 90 days unless the recipient is working or volunteering at least 20 hours a week or is in job training. During the recession, the federal government allowed exceptions to that rule, and many states took them, including North CCarrolina starting in 2008.
The state's current waiver lasts through Dec. 31. DHHS spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre said the department will phase work requirements back in for food stamp recipients in 23 counties, where about 50 percent of the state's food stamp caseload lives. The state's remaining counties will be phased in during the year, she said.
The bill would block the state from seeking any such waivers in the future.
The benefit is about $32 a week, paid for by the federal government, not the state.
Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said cutting off extensions will encourage jobless people "caught up" in assistance programs to go out and look for work.
"When this goes into effect, you’re going to see a lot of them either go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they're going to enroll in some kind of job education," Sanderson predicted.
But Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, called the move "cruel-hearted," pointing out that the state's recovery from the recession has been uneven, leaving rural areas like her district behind. She warned that the crackdown would harm the same impoverished areas the Senate has been trying to help this session and would also disproportionately hurt returning veterans who often have difficulty finding work.
"There are not enough jobs for every one of those people and not enough job training program slots for every one of those peopple. So, we are basically relegating them, I guess, to steal for food," Bryant said. "The reality of compliance is just not there across the board, and it is harmful both to them and to our community to force them into hunger when there are bigger forces creating this problem."
Bryant tried to amend the bill to remove the food assistance restriction, but her amendment failed on party lines.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said those who need the help for longer than 90 days can meet the work qualifications by volunteering instead.
The measure passed its initial vote along party lines, 32-11, with Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, joining Republicans to support it. The final Senate vote is scheduled for Monday evening. After that, it returns to the House for concurrence.