- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Senate committee vote was postponed Tuesday on an effort to penalize Louisiana jurisdictions that don’t align with federal immigration law, after some senators questioned whether the proposal gives the attorney general too much power.

Attorney General Jeff Landry testified in favor of the House-approved bill that would allow his office to determine whether jurisdictions were operating as so-called sanctuary cities - municipalities that don’t enforce federal immigration law without a court order.

The state could bar a city or parish from borrowing money for large construction projects under the measure, but only after the attorney general determined a jurisdiction violated law by operating as a sanctuary city.

Landry has been outspoken in his opposition of sanctuary cities, saying they invite terrorists and provide a “fertile ground” for illegal drug trade. Orleans and Lafayette parishes are currently viewed as having such policies.

The hour-long debate grew heated, with senators questioning whether the measure violated due process and invested too much authority with Landry. The Senate Judiciary A Committee delayed a decision until its next meeting.

The tone of the debate differed from House discussion on the measure, which focused largely on the potential for discrimination and overburdening of local parish law enforcement. The Senate panel generally agreed Louisiana law should ban sanctuary policies, and, instead, turned its focus on the bill’s enforcement process.

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, urged the panel to consider the bill’s separation of power. The bill, he said, has the potential to severely penalize communities by removing their public funding.

“I don’t think it should be based on an (attorney general’s) opinion,” he said.

Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, agreed, attempting to quell concerns by proposing an amendment to grant the state court the power to determine sanctuary cities, instead of the attorney general. His change also would remove the bill’s funding penalty and hold non-complaint cities in contempt of court instead.

“That gives everybody the right to come in and have their day in court, and it does not give the attorney general the unilateral, unprecedented power to make these decisions,” Luneau said.

Landry said he was not opposed to adding additional due process to the bill “as long as there’s an expedited manner.”

But tensions rose as he suggested removing the proposal’s penalty provision would irresponsibly remove the state’s ability to enforce the bill. Contempt of court orders have been “basically ignored” in Louisiana, Landry said.

The bill’s author, Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, echoed Landry’s concerns, saying she worried removing the penalty would “take all of the teeth” out of her proposal.

The committee did not vote on Luneau’s suggested change, but the senator told Landry his intentions were clear.

“I want to take the politics out of it, sir,” he said.

___

House Bill 1148: www.legis.la.gov

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