CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Once again, controversy during the House Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security committee meeting ground the meeting to an abrupt halt.
Last week, it was a dispute over whether to take the meeting behind closed doors to discuss the performance of former Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato that led Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, to call for the meeting to adjourn mid-debate.
This week, it was a tug of war over an immigration bill that led Hollen to end the meeting.
The bill was a bill originating out of committee with no number, but nearly identical to HB 2067, introduced by Hollen.
The bill aims to forbid counties and cities from enacting any laws or policies contrary to or restricting enforcement of federal immigration law, or to prevent federal law enforcement officials from gathering immigration status information.
Committee Democrats expressed dismay over the bill, and puzzled why it’s needed, given that the state Constitution’s first article says, “The constitution of the United States of America, and the laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land.”
Committee counsel said that there are counties across the country that are refusing to cooperate with federal immigration policies and officials.
Democrats then wondered if not cooperating is the same as actively hindering, which is what the bill addresses.
Counsel said that the bill simply allows ICE – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – to do its job without interference, should it come to West Virginia. And it would prevent county or city officials from preventing police or deputies from assisting ICE, if so requested.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, moved to postpone indefinitely consideration of the bill – which doesn’t mean what it sounds like. Postponing indefinitely means taking it out of action for the rest of the session – in other words, killing it.
Pushkin said the Republican majority says its stated goal is to make West Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family. But this bill does none of that. “It’s pure election fodder.”
Hoping to keep the bill alive, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, moved to table the bill. In parliamentary terms, that motion has to be handled first and would keep the bill alive by delaying action until a later meeting.
Butler’s motion failed 8-9. Chair Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, didn’t vote. Pushkin’s motion then also failed, 9-9, as McGeehan voted this time.
Hollen then moved to adjourn, which carried. McGeehan said afterward he’ll probably bring the bill back for consideration at another meeting.
An equally controversial and related bill, HB 2664, was also on the agenda and still also remains in play. It was introduced by Butler and is called the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act. It calls for the state and local communities to gauge their capacity to absorb refugees and plan for measures to accept them.
Both bills had drawn opposition to the meeting room – a group of people of various faiths and nationalities who came prepared to speak against them but didn’t get the chance.