The Colorado Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would allow crime victims to sue municipalities with sanctuary city policies, as well the state withholding tax money.
Senate Bill 281 still must pass a roll-call vote before moving to the House, where it faces certain death before the House Democratic majority, which killed a similar bill this session that would have allowed public officials to be arrested over sanctuary city policies.
Democrats lined up Monday to argue that the bill asks the state to do the federal government's job.
The bill would allow federal agencies to determine which municipalities are sanctuary cities, because they don't adequately cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Proponents of tougher immigration enforcement wanted local authorities to hold undocumented inmates in local jails until they can be deported, as well as other cooperation.
The bill's Republican sponsors, Tim Neville of Castle Rock and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, were the only senators are argued to pass it.
The bill is politically charged for legislators in closely divided districts, especially those with large Latino communities, which Democrats will be happy to remind voters of next year.
The bill puts some Republicans, who normally eschew federal involvement in state and local affairs, in the awkward position of arguing for more federal involvement in local matters when it comes to immigration.
"We deal with a number of compliance issues on a regular basis when it comes to federal law," Neville said in regard to a failed amendment allowing the state to define what a sanctuary city is. "When federal funds are being given to the state the idea is that the federal government is charging those states to use those funds accordingly.
"When sanctuary city policies are adopted then public safety is put at risk, therefore it makes a lot of sense that the federal government have some of say in that."
Sen. Daniel Kagan, R-Cherry Hills Village, a lawyer, said the proposal violates the U.S. Constitution by requiring local law enforcement to do the job of the federal immigration authorities.
When local jails hold a person beyond the end of his or her local sentence, it constitutes a second arrest on behalf of the federal government. Kagan argued.
"We cannot be commandeered in Colorado by any other government, especially the federal government," he said.
The Republican majority voted down two Kagan amendments: one to allow the United Nations to weigh in, since the federal government would determine local cooperation, and a second to allow the state to help define what a sanctuary city is.
"Let us have a say whether Centennial, Greenwood Village or Sheridan pays the price of the federal government's determination whether they are a sanctuary city," he said.
Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, one of the state's most passionate public safety advocates, called Senate Bill 281 "a very bad, bad bill for Colorado."
Fields said she stood with law enforcement agencies that opposed the bill in committee, because it would frighten anyone who is undocumented or has ties to an undocumented person from cooperating police in reporting crimes or testifying.
"If we want to make Colorado stronger again, this bill is not the way to do that for us," she said.
Fields also ran an unsuccessful amendment to change the word "illegal alien" to "undocumented" to get rid of what many see as a derogatory term.