What you need to know about Ohio Politics and Policy
· November 15, 2012
Ohio House GOP Immigration Effort Creates Unfunded Mandate on Local Govs, Invites Expensive Litigation
Fresh from an election that saw them win a majority of seats – despite winning fewer total votes than their Democratic peers, Ohio Republicans wasted no time in getting back to an agenda that bolsters Ohio’s economy and encourages job creation.
Oh wait – that’s not what happened at all.
Yesterday, the same day that another Ohio House Committee passed a bill to block funding to Planned Parenthood, the Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee heard sponsor testimony on a new bill (HB 580) that would require Ohio’s police officers to check the immigration status of persons suspected of being in the country illegally. The bill would require police officers doing even routine traffic stops to make a complicated set of determinations about whether it’s “reasonable” to suspect that someone is in the county illegally, whether it’s “practicable” to try to figure out if they actually are, and whether trying to make that determination would “hinder or obstruct” an investigation. It also requires the officer to make all of these decisions without relying on race, color or national origin.
Testifying in support of their bill, Reps. Courtney Combs (R-Fairfield) and Matt Lynch (R-Chagrin Falls) managed to pack enough racially insensitive asides and offensively misinformed assertions into their few minutes of testimony to provoke expressions of outrage and even derisive laughter on several occasions from those attending the hearing.
At one point, attendees laughed openly at Rep. Combs’ assertion that “[Racial] profiling is not what it was many years ago.” Combs was eloquently corrected later on by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) who assured him, to murmurs of approval from the gallery, that profiling is indeed a continuing problem for racial minorities.
HB 580 brings up important topics like racial profiling, social justice, linguistic discrimination and the equitable treatment of legal immigrants and foreign visitors. However, Ohioans would be wise not to let our feelings on those issues distract us from seeing this bill for what it really is at its core: a complicated unfunded mandate on Ohio’s local police departments at a time when they’ve already suffered massive staff and budget reductions.
Combs, the bill’s primary sponsor, voted for the Kasich budget that cut over a billion dollars from local governments – funding those governments rely on to help pay for police and fire protection. In fact, all four House co-sponsors voted for these cuts, except Rep. Lynch, who was appointed to his seat after the bill was passed. Ohio newspaper headlines have been rife with recent examples of how the Kasich cuts have affected police departments. In Combs’ home county of Butler, city officials in Middletown were forced to cope with state budget cuts by eliminating nine firefighters and seven police employees.
A cursory examination of the language of HB 580 shows that complying with the letter of the proposed law would likely require police officers to make extremely complicated evaluations of federal and international laws and regulations each time they make an arrest or issue a citation. They would be forced to do all of this with fewer staff, and no additional training or funding. When asked by Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield) how officers would be trained to implement consistent standards of reasonable suspicion under the complicated circumstances outlined in the bill, Combs responded that he thought that kind of training was in place today. He’s wrong.
The truth is that by placing the burden of making a determination usually reserved for specially trained federal immigration officials on a local police officer, HB 580 opens the door to a flood of expensive litigation about whether an officer illegally relied on race or color in asking someone about their immigration status. In fact, Combs himself inadvertently illustrated the difficult position his bill would put officers in by insisting that “officers who profile will lose their jobs.” (Combs also said at one point during the questioning that “I wouldn’t want to be a police officer.”)
The bottom line here is that despite receiving fewer overall votes than Democrats in last week’s elections and losing House seats they should have been able to win, Ohio Republicans still aren’t focused on creating the jobs that will help Ohio’s economy recover. Instead, they’re continuing to cut funding to programs they don’t like, and to expect more of Ohio’s public service professionals while giving them less in return.