Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce's Police State Bill Passes MAPS Committee (Again); All Persons in Arizona Could Be Required To Prove They Are Not Illegal

State Senator Russell Pearce's police state bill, SB 1070, passed the House Military Affairs and Public Safety committee again today, after a three hour session of testimony, with state Representative Kyrsten Sinema, the Assistant House Democratic Leader, taking the lead on peppering Pearce, and others speaking for and against the bill, with questions.

I say, "again," above because the same bill in the form of its House mirror HB 2632 went before MAPS back in February. That bill ran into trouble when it went to the House floor, first failing to garner enough Republican votes, and later pulling an amendment that effectively sidelined it.

So Pearce and his allies have decided to run a slightly altered version in the form of an amended SB 1070, taking it through the MAPS committee once more. If the bill gets past the House Committee of the Whole, and its third read, it will go back to the state Senate to be voted on as amended. 

From there, it should go to Governor Jan Brewer's desk. 

Even without a state trespassing provision against illegals, which was left out of the current, amended version, SB 1070 is a frightening hodgepodge of unfunded mandates, grants of police power, and a private right of citizens to sue cities, police departments and any other agencies in the state that don't enforce federal immigration statues "to less than the full extent permitted by federal law."

John Thomas, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, pointed out that such language opens the door to frivolous lawsuits that could potentially cripple the finances of a small municipality. Indeed, the bill allows for a civil penalty against a defending entity of $1,000 to $5,000 for each day from the date of the filing of the suit.

"Law enforcement has the potential to be sued from both sides of the equation," he observed, ominously. "You're going to have people sue because you're racially profiling...And you're going to have people suing from the other side because you're not fully enforcing immigration law."

It grants police the authority to arrest without warrant any person they believe to have committed "any public offense" that makes them removable from the U.S. 

Persons would be presumed not to be aliens only if they have certain I.D. on them, such as  a valid driver's license, a tribal enrollment card, or a passport. Legal aliens could be fined if they don't have their green cards or other docs with them.

And what if you have no I.D. on you? Well, you could be held in custody for several hours until the cop sorts it out, even if you're American, born and bred. 

If you're a tourist and leave your hotel sans visa? Yep, you too could be arrested. And if the local constabulary can't verify who you are, you might be paying a visit to the ol' gray bar hotel.

Police officers are indemnified against court costs and attorney fees if they make a mistake that results in a lawsuit. Which is good for the cop, but bad for the city, town and/or agency involved, because they're on the hook for the legal bill.

This makes the issue of instructing local cops in immigration law, should this monstrosity pass, even more important. Thomas was clear, it won't be cheap.

"This requires training in federal statutes," said Thomas. "You are going to have thousands of officers you are going to have to train. And there is going to be a cost with that."

What that cost will be, no one knows.

Regarding the lawsuit provision, Sinema pointed out that a law enforcement agency could be sued by someone who objects to specialty squads, such as detectives working stalking cases, if a plaintiff believes those cops should be pursuing brown folk instead. 

(Note: Sinema replaced Rep. Daniel Patterson, also a Democrat, on the committee recently, after Patterson was booted from MAPS by the Republicans. His crime? Asking aggressive questions of Russell Pearce on a different bill.)

There are a litany of other problems with the bill. Libertarians have objected to a provision that leads to the sharing of personal information between the feds and the state, which in turn feeds into the creation of a national I.D. card under the federal REAL I.D. Act. That section is still in the bill.

One provision of the bill that prohibits transporting or harboring an alien is written so broadly that it could affect employers, churches and charity groups. 

There is an exemption in the proposed law now for ambulance drivers and other EMT personnel as far as the transporting part of it goes. (It was picked up from an amendment to the earlier House bill.) 

However, Sinema and others observed that neither school bus drivers nor taxi drivers are similarly exempted.

Anti-day laborer provisions remain in the bill, and could potentially affect individuals picking up their colleagues and carpooling to work. 

Finally, neither witnesses nor victims are exempted from the new police mandate to inquire after residency and summarily turn suspects over to ICE, if the officer wishes.

Despite all of these issues, the bill received a "do-pass" recommendation, with only two members voting "nay." 

Today's proceedings were disturbing to witness, as the Republicans on the committee rolled over for Pearce, fearful to raise any objection, though I know there are a number of GOPers who privately have expressed severe reservations with the legislation.

Some of the GOPers I speak of were the ones who quietly disappeared when HB 2632 first came to COW for a vote, leaving the legislation in limbo.

This could happen again, and, in fact, it could be the only hope for preventing the bill from reaching Brewer's itchy pen-finger.

Meanwhile, opposition from both the left and the right of the political spectrum has increased the heat on lawmakers, making them sweat the possible consequences. 

To this end, bill opponents who today swelled both the committee hearing room and an overflow room were a welcome sight. Many were from Phoenix's Puente Movement and Tucson's Border Action Network.

Representatives from the Catholic Church, Valley Interfaith Project, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, and Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform joined forces in speaking against the bill. 

Those speaking in favor of it, such as Mark Spencer of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, and its sponsor Pearce, often appealed to emotion. 

The name of murdered southern Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was invoked more than once.

What wasn't mentioned is that this bill, if already law, would have done nothing to prevent Krentz's killing. 

Indeed, undocumented witnesses to such heinous crimes could be arrested and deported as a result of the Pearce bill's requirements. 

This would make witnesses less likely to come forward, in turn making such homicides less likely to be solved. 

But maybe that's the way the nativists want it.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons

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