Proposal would withdraw funding from NC cities, counties that violate immigration laws
Posted June 21, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Cities and counties would risk losing school funding and money for road repairs if they are too lenient in their adherence to state immigration laws if a bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary II Committee on Tuesday becomes law.
The measure, House Bill 100, originally dealt with people who reported they could not serve on juries because they weren't citizens. It required local clerks of court to report that information to the North Carolina Board of Elections.
While the jury provision is still in the bill, senators larded in material from another House measure that would ban police agencies from accepting non-government identification cards to establish the legal identity of those with whom they come into contact. That provision targets identity cards issued by Faith Action International, a nonprofit in Greensboro that produces community IDs for people who cannot otherwise obtain a state ID.
That other bill is House Bill 1069, the N.C. Employee Protection Act, which has not yet cleared the House. By blending the two measures, the Senate is fast-tracking the legislation, allowing it to vault several steps in the legislative process. Its sponsors say quick action is needed because some local governments are ignoring a bill passed in 2015.
That 2015 law banned local and state agencies from recognizing consular documents, which are issued by foreign governments, or community IDs such as Faith Action's. However, that law made an exception for law enforcement agencies that were trying to identify suspects and victims of crimes. Local governments and nonprofits have exploited that loophole, according to Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, and other sponsors of the measure.
"We are facing an epidemic here," Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico said, pointing to expansion of the informal ID program to a half-dozen cities over the past year.
The bill also references a 2015 law that prohibits cities and counties from contracting with companies that don't use E-Verify, a system that ensures people are legally allowed to work in the United States.
In addition, the redrafted House Bill 100 directs the Attorney General's Office to create a form that citizens can use to report violations of immigration-related laws, and if the agency finds that a city or a county has failed to comply with the state law, a county would lose school construction funding and a city would lose Powell Bill funding for roads. That would extend to cities and counties where police agencies were in violation, even if they weren't acting on a specific direction from the city council or board of county commissioners.
"I hate to use the word penalty. How about an incentive for cities – and so far it’s only cities, no counties have done this – to make them sit up and take notice and say, 'You know what? This is important to the state. It’s something that we really need to consider,'" Sanderson said after Tuesday's committee meeting. "So that's the reason. I don’t want a single municipality or single county to lose any funding. We just want them to adhere to state law."
Sarah Collins, a lobbyist for the North Carolina League of Municipalities, said that local governments want to comply with the existing law and are willing to work with lawmakers.
Because of how the bill was drafted, neither she nor other members of the public had notice of the total contents until minutes before the committee meeting started.
"I can't speak to all the details of this provision because I'm just now looking at it," Collins said, adding that the provision allowing citizens to report violations directly to the Attorney General's Office could be "problematic."
Later in the day, Scott Mooneyham, a spokesman for the league, said lawmakers had not alerted his group to the problems they were trying to fix.
"Tying Powell Bill dollars to a law that is unrelated to street construction and street maintenance appears to be unprecedented. And it would penalize local taxpayers in ways that have nothing to do with the issue," Mooneyham said. "We’re hopeful that some of the bill proponents would work with us and look to perhaps other avenues to address what they have recognized as a problem."
The measure passed on a voice vote, but there was some dissension on the committee, particularly among Democrats.
"I believe this bill puts too much power into the Attorney General's Office," said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, pointing out that the measure essentially allows the attorney general to strip funding from a local government without a trial.
Sanderson pointed out that appeals are allowed of the attorney general's decision, but the bill doesn't spell out how such an appeal would work. The risk of losing funding should discourage local governments from violating the law, he added.
"I would hope that just the threat of this penalty would really cause the municipalities and whoever else might be involved to take a look at this," Sanderson said.
The measure next moves to the Senate floor.