Members of Maryland’s legislative minority caucuses urged fellow state lawmakers on Monday to pass a bill that would limit police cooperation with federal immigration-enforcement efforts, concerned that the measure might die in the Senate after winning approval in the House with broad support.
A separate attempt to address a new policy emerging in Washington failed when Republicans in the House of Delegates refused to allow the introduction of legislation dealing with Internet privacy.
The immigration-enforcement bill, known as the Trust Act, has not been scheduled for a committee vote in the Senate, and advocates are worried that it might not advance in time to pass before the end of the legislative session on April 10, if at all.
Last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the bill would not pass in its current form, warning that “Maryland is not going to become a sanctuary state.”
Advocates said it is unclear whether the bill would qualify Maryland for the “sanctuary” label, which is loosely defined and means different things in different places. President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have promised a crackdown on sanctuary jurisdictions, but they have yet to clearly define which regulations or laws would make a state or locality vulnerable to sanctions.
Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), speaking at a news conference with the legislative black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander caucuses, prodded members of her party to support the Trust Act, calling it “the Democratic thing to do” and saying they “should not think twice about it.”
Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins and Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler held a competing news conference calling on lawmakers to defeat the measure.
“It’s not going to be good for public safety or Marylanders,” Jenkins said.
The legislation would prohibit local and state police from stopping or questioning individuals solely to determine their country of origin or immigration status. It would also bar the state and most Maryland jurisdictions from assisting deportation efforts by detaining undocumented prisoners past their release date, unless federal agents have a warrant or court order describing probable cause. Many Maryland jurisdictions already have such policies in place.
The bill allows exceptions for Frederick and Harford counties, which take part in a special federal program that uses local police to help with immigration enforcement. Other jurisdictions could participate in the program if they first hold public hearings.
Trust Act advocates say the legislation would protect undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to communities while ensuring that they can report crimes to police without fear of deportation.
“There are people here who want to live the American Dream and become successful, who are scared of the violence that is going on in their home countries,” said Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus. “Those are the people we’re trying to protect here, so if that’s what we’re becoming a sanctuary against, I welcome it.”
Jenkins argued that the legislation would place too many restrictions on local agencies trying to deal with undocumented immigrants who are dangerous.
“I haven’t seen a good version of this bill yet,” he said. “Nothing that comes out of this could be good for law enforcement or corrections in Maryland.”
The House on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would reform Maryland licensing for producing and dispensing medical marijuana, in response to concerns that too few of the preliminary licenses last year went to minority-owned companies. The legislation would require the state to consider racial and geographic diversity when ranking applications and would give the Health Department authority over the industry.
Lawmakers voted to remove language that would allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients dealing with “opioid abuse disorder,” a provision added by a House committee last month.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the bill, said that “too many people were uncomfortable” with the added language but that she supports the idea and plans to introduce it separately next year.
A bill with an alternative approach to overhauling the licensing system, sponsored by Miller, is awaiting action in the Senate.
House Republicans also blocked an effort by Majority Leader C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) to introduce a late-file bill designed to safeguard Internet privacy in Maryland. The measure needed 94 votes to move forward in the legislative process, but it received only 90 votes, along party lines. Two Democrats were absent.
The legislation would have prevented an Internet-service provider from selling or transferring a customer’s name, address, Social Security number or Web browsing history without permission. It also would also bar them from sending advertisements to customers based on their browsing histories.
Frick proposed the bill in response to a recent decision by Congress to roll back Web-privacy regulations that the Obama administration established.
Most late-file bills generally move forward with bipartisan support as a courtesy. But Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) described Frick’s bill as a political attempt to bring “Washington, D.C., politics to Annapolis,” while others said it was too complicated to be considered in the final days of the 90-day session.
Frick said he had no control over the timing.
“I think this was a shameful vote not to even try to have a conversation about protecting your privacy,” he said. “This is the biggest privacy issue of the year, maybe of the decade, and Republicans said maybe we’ll get to it next year.”
Although the issue failed in the House, another attempt is likely in the Senate. Last week Miller told his colleagues to expect a bill, or an amendment to an existing bill, to deal with the issue before the end of session.
Also on Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed legislation providing more than $33 million annually over the next three years to school systems in Baltimore and 10 other jurisdictions facing declining enrollment. For Baltimore, the money would be contingent upon an independent auditor reviewing the school district’s finances, and the Board of Education developing a financial recovery plan.