BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill banning safe-havens for illegal immigrants in Louisiana was met with criticism in a Senate committee Tuesday after lawmakers expressed concern it gave the attorney general too much power.
HB 1148, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would give Attorney General Jeff Landry the sole authority to label municipalities as "sanctuary cities," thereby putting them at risk of losing bond money from the state.
"His job is not to be judge, jury, and executioner. His job is to be the legal officer of the state of Louisiana," said Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria.
"I just don't think it should be – no disrespect – a one-man show. It should be a process," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.
Luneau, Martiny, and other members of the Senate committee said while they support the effort to ban sanctuary cities, they just disagreed with the role played by the attorney general as well as the form of punishment levied upon violators.
By definition, "sanctuary cities" do not enforce federal immigration law without a court order. If certain jurisdictions persisted, they would lose the ability to get bond money from the state for big construction projects.
Landry defended Hodges' measure, telling lawmakers that those jurisdictions could still appeal his sanctuary city opinion in court.
"In no way does this bill in any way give me any extraordinary powers. I'm given that power as the legal advisor to the bond commission as well," he said.
When the bill appeared in the House earlier this session, Landry labeled both Orleans and Lafayette parishes as safe-havens for illegal immigrants.
New Orleans, in particular, has fallen under scrutiny due to a policy there preventing members of the New Orleans Police Department from asking individuals about their immigration status. That rule was implemented to bring the police force in line with a federally-mandated consent decree, which was ordered by a court following lawsuits about potentially unconstitutional police practices by the NOPD.
Luneau introduced an amendment taking the power to label sanctuary cities away from Landry and giving it to the courts.
The amendment would also eliminate the sanction on bonds, replacing it with jail time for local leaders. Luneau said he feared the retractions on state money would inflict undue harm on the citizens of those jurisdictions.
"When you want to punish a person for not following the law in a court of law, you hold them in contempt and put them in jail until they change their mind. That's the ultimate punishment," Luneau said. "Trust me, that's a much worse punishment than telling somebody we're not going to let you get a bond to build a parking lot."
Landry indicated he would accept giving the power to the courts. However, he joined Hodges in objecting to changing the prescribed punishment. He said ultimately the public chose to elect those leaders.
The concerns about Landry potentially over-stepping his power are not a new theme this session. Last week, the House advanced a budget plan giving the AG's office its own breakaway budget. While the legislator would still have some oversight powers under HB 105, the Division of Administration would be cut out from overseeing mid-year adjustments.
During the debate, Landry took to the floor to speak in support of the bill, saying he feared that the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards may try to interfere in how he does his job. Meanwhile, some Democrats questioned the constitutionality of the bill. In a statement, the governor called the bill a "power grab" and said he would veto the measure if it ever made it to his desk.
Senators ran out of time to vote on HB 1148 or amendments Tuesday. They are expected to take up the measure in committee again next week.