August 11, 2011

Immigration a hot topic at national conference; few Md. legislators attending

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Immigration remains a hot topic in state legislatures around the country, but Maryland — as usual — bucks the national trend for laws proposed and enacted that crack down on illegal immigrants.

According to a report on immigration policy presented at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in San Antonio, 1,592 bills related to immigrants and refugees were introduced in the 50 states this year. Forty states enacted 151 laws and adopted 95 resolutions.

NCSL logo“States are very frustrated with the lack of federal action,” said Ann Morse, NCSL program director for the Immigration Policy Project. “Immigration is one of those push-pull issues.”

Morse said the states were hopeful that the federal government would actually do some kind of immigration reform in 2006-2007, and were disappointed when nothing happened.

“Now they’re trying to use every tool in the toolbox” to deal with the problem, Morse said.

This year, Maryland and Connecticut stood out from the pack by passing laws permitting “unauthorized immigrant students” to be eligible for in-state college tuition, joining 10 other states that already did so. The Maryland law was petitioned to referendum to appear on the November 2012 ballot, but a lawsuit is challenging the validity of the petitions.

Five states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – enacted broad bills like Arizona’s that require law enforcement to attempt to determine the immigration status of anyone stopped by police. These laws also allow residents to sue state and local agencies for failure to enforce immigration laws, and require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to validate work eligibility.

All but South Carolina’s law are being challenged in federal court as violations of civil rights and pre-emption of federal authority.

Some Republicans in the Maryland legislature have introduced various bills to combat illegal immigration, but none has gotten out of committees.

The NCSL also cites two other new Maryland laws affecting immigrants with provisions that received little publicity.

The new law implementing the health benefits exchange as part of increased access to insurance under federal health reform requires that beneficiaries must be U.S. citizens or lawfully present. Another bill implementing the federal law authorizes the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission to provide primary health care assistance and services to migrant health centers.

Seven Maryland legislators at NCSL

Only eight seven lawmakers from Maryland’s 188-member legislature are attending this year’s annual meeting in San Antonio. That’s a far lower number than in past, before the budget crunch cut travel spending the last two years.

NCSL public affairs director Meagan Dorsch said 1,300 legislators and staff are attending the meeting.

The seven members of the General Assembly are all actively involved in NCSL committees that study how states are working on issues such as education, health, transportation, environment and budgets.

According to Joy Walker, office manager for Senate President Mike Miller, the senators in San Antonio are: Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore city, chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee; Verna Jones-Rodwell, Baltimore city; Delores Kelley, Baltimore County; and Jim Rosapepe, Prince George’s. Alexandra Hughes, communications director for House Speaker Michael Busch, said three delegates are attending: Sheila Hixson, Montgomery, chair of the Ways & Means Committee; Jon Cardin, Baltimore County; and Sally Jameson, Charles.

CORRECTION: Del. Kieffer Mitchell, Baltimore City, said he also attended.

All are Democrats.

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services could not immediately provide the names of any staff members attending, but typically, several high level policy analysts also attend the NCSL meeting.

—Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com