Sanctuary city bill to allow crimes victims to sue dies on constitutional questions in the Colorado House

Sanctuary city bill to allow crime victims to sue dies on constitutional questions in the Colorado House

Author: Joey Bunch - May 3, 2017 - Updated: July 1, 2017

A bill that would have allowed crime victims to sue a local government deemed to be sanctuary city died, as expected, in a House committee on a party-line vote Wednesday.

Senate Bill 281 also would have prompted the state to withhold tax dollars from those locations deemed by federal authorities to be uncooperative with federal immigration laws.

In February the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed another bill, House Bill 1134,  that would have allowed police chiefs, sheriffs and other public officials to be arrested. as well.

Law enforcement opposed both bills, citing concerns about violating the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable seizures by holding them longer than their local sentence, awaiting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents to pick them up for deportation.

Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, who co-sponsored both bills, said law enforcement’s opposition is based in their concern about getting sued by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sheriff Bruce Hartman of Gilpin County, representing the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said local law enforcement has to follow the Constitution and court decisions, and those decisions have found immigration detainers to extend jail time to be unconstitutional.

“I would submit to you that no peace officer in his right mind would put on a uniform if they were afraid of the ACLU suing them,” he said.

Christopher Lasch, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm School of Law, said the proposed Colorado bill is remarkably similar to President Trump’s executive order that was blocked last week over constitutional questions. That order would have withheld federal funding from sanctuary cities.

“There is no actual definition of a sanctuary city,” he said, which makes it nearly impossible to implement such a law as Senate Bill 281.

Lasch said federal laws do not require immigration enforcement detainers to be observed by local law enforcement, and coercing them to enforce federal immigration laws amounts to federal commandeering of local officers.

Laura Richards of the anti-Trump group Indivisible Colorado asked what local law enforcement is supposed to do, then, “load them up in a truck and drive them to the enforcement office?”

“If we’re going to make government accountable, I’d like taxpayers to pay for my flat tire when I hit a pothole,” she said.

Williams said the case law and opinions of the ACLU cited during testimony represented “getting out in the weeds,” and asked members of the committee to think about allowing more criminals on the streets by killing his bill.

“That doesn’t cut it to the people who have lost loved ones,” he said. “That doesn’t cut it with the people who have been violated.”

He said Senate Bill 281 would affect local governments that seek to thwart federal immigration enforcement.

“I believe Denver is absolutely a sanctuary city,” Williams said. “They may not have specific written-out policies, but they do so in practice. You do have Boulder, for example, that outright says they’re going to be a sanctuary city.”

He cited a Denver Post article by Jon Murray that said Denver the city is change its sentencing ordinance to help immigrants avoid deportation.

“This isn’t something that’s being made up,” Williams said. “There is a deliberate attempt, not only in Denver, but Aurora, Boulder and other places around the state that do not want to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in any way, shape or form, and that’s leading to crimes that do not need to occur.”

He pivoted to partisan politics on questions of constitutionality, saying Republicans like him don’t think his bill violates the Fourth Amendment any more than Democrats think their views violate the Second Amendment on gun rights or the 10th Amendment on states’ rights.

“These people are violating the law,” he said of undocumented residents, before pointing the remark at Democrats. “It may be immaterial to six of you on this committee, but I can tell you they are violating the law, nevertheless, by how they come here.”

Rep. Phil Covarrubias, R-Brighton, blamed much of the problem on the way the Obama administration started a domino effect that extended to local governments.

“It seems like the people on the left want to protect everybody but American citizens,” Covarrubias said.

Those remarks got Chairman Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, a deputy prosecutor in Boulder County, in a lather on behalf of law enforcement leaders who opposed the bill.

“Some of us on the left make a living protecting the public,” he firmly told Covarrubias.

Foote said such a bill, even without a chance of passing, frightens people away from talking to authorities when they are victim or a witness.

“This bill … harms the people in this state just by having this kind of bill being discussed and seriously advocated for,” he said. “… It’s frankly too bad we had to hear this bill again,” Foote said.


Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.


  • Tannim

    May 4, 2017 at 8:39 am

    281 was a good and proper bill killed by the partisan politics of the anti-freedom left.

    So was 1134.

    The real problem is that these statists object to having to ve held to the actual standard of upholding the law instead of only leeching off taxpayers.


  • equalizer

    May 4, 2017 at 8:40 am

    “Constitutional questions” didn’t kill this bill; they were a fig leaf. A party-line vote did.


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