May 10, 2017 02:22 PM

House Bill 676 sponsor Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, confers with Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, during debate on the so-called Sanctuary City bill
Photo by Sarah Gamard

The Louisiana House of Representatives Tuesday narrowly killed a controversial bill that would have imposed penalties on so-called sanctuary cities, primarily New Orleans.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, needed a two-thirds vote in the House — 70 votes — to pass House Bill 676 . She fell six votes short, with a final vote of 64 yeas to 32 nays, which ran along party lines. A similar bill passed the House last session, only to die in a Senate committee.

A technicality prevented the bill from passing, even as state Attorney General Jeff Landry, a passionate supporter of the legislation, whipped up votes in the Capitol hallways in the moments leading up to the bill’s vote.

The inclusion of a civil penalty of $1,000 to $5,000 daily for cities declared in non-compliance constituted a “fee bill” under House rules. Fee bills require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Sanctuary cities refers to towns, cities or parishes that adopt policies incongruent with Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement protocol, including discouraging cooperation with immigration agents and policies preventing law enforcement officers from asking arrestees their immigration status while conducting a routine investigation on an unrelated incident.

Hodges said the bill did not compel the officer to do anything, but it “untied their hands. It’s time for us to put America and Americans first.”

New Orleans officials have denied being a sanctuary city.

The bill would have given Landry authority to investigate cities and state agencies after receiving a valid complaint accusing entities of sanctuary city practices. Cities and parishes would have been required to comply with document requests related to the investigation, and Landry would have been responsible for ensuring the collection of penalties.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, questioned the legality of the investigations and the attorney general’s burden of proof in determining sanctuary city practices. New Orleans, which Leger represents, has been targeted for alleged sanctuary city policies by the U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security under the Trump Administration.

Hodges’ bill garnered vocal criticism primarily from the New Orleans Democratic delegation, who were concerned the bill’s language would lead to racial profiling, particularly with Hispanics. Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, called it “a horrible bill” after a two-minute spar with Hodges.

“I worry that American citizens who may not be from this country, but they are American citizens, are going to be profiled and asked their immigration status because they have an accent or because they look a certain way,” argued Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, a Mexican-American.

Frustrated after debating with Hodges, Leger said he did not understand how she could penalize the same group of people who “stood up” after the state’s natural disasters.

“No one asked them what their immigration status was when they showed up with a hammer and nails and work tools to (help hurricane and flood victimes) build their lives back together,” Leger said.

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