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Durham’s state lawmakers say Democrats, governor will defeat ICE cooperation bill

Immigrants protest ICE arrests

About 20 Charlotte area residents, including immigrants, came together outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to protest arrests by ICE agents in recent days.
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About 20 Charlotte area residents, including immigrants, came together outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to protest arrests by ICE agents in recent days.

State Rep. Marcia Morey and Durham’s other state lawmakers say they will help block a bill forcing sheriffs to work with federal immigration agents.

“We think we can sustain the governor’s [expected] veto,” said Morey, who represents the 30th District, at a town hall meeting Thursday. “All the caucus held strong. Everyone is together.”

The bill has passed the House but not the Senate, yet. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks them to detain someone, sheriffs would have to hold immigrants who are in the country illegally in their jail past the time they would normally be released, such as by posting bail. If the sheriffs refuse to cooperate with ICE, they would risk fines of up to $25,000 per day.

Current state law requires officials to check the immigration status of anyone charged with a felony or DWI. The bill would make them check the immigration status of anyone charged with any crime.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, who was at Thursday’s town hall, called the bill “capricious and without merit. … It’s just a bad bill.”

Rep. Robert T. Reives II, who represents District 54, said of the House vote on the bill: “That vote was important because [the Republicans] thought they could break some of us off. This was our first big vote as a 55-member caucus, and so they’re thinking ‘if we break a couple them off we can start some cracks in that caucus.’ And they didn’t get one person.”

The bill is backed by House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, The News & Observer has reported. “If the law-abiding citizens of North Carolina are subject to enforcement of state and federal law, then illegal immigrants detained for committing crimes should be too,” Moore said in a press release.

Medicaid expansion

Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., who represents the 20th district, said he thinks Gov. Roy Cooper will veto any budget bill that doesn’t include Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we won’t really have a budget in the state unless Medicaid expansion is part of it,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean we can’t operate as a government. It just means we may have continuing resolutions and continue to operate at the same level.”

McKissick said the House GOP leadership was more receptive to passing Medicaid expansion – with some sort of work requirement – than the Senate leadership.

“I think Gov. Cooper would take what he can get right now with the hope of improving it later,” he said.

Cooper addressed Medicaid expansion in his State of the State address in February, getting the loudest standing ovation from Democrats of his speech. Expansion would allow from 300,000 to 500,000 adults to use government health insurance, with the federal government paying most of the cost. Under state law, Cooper cannot move to expand Medicaid without the legislature’s consent.

Prominent House Republicans have promoted their own idea for filling what they call the “coverage gap,” by offering health insurance to working people who would pay a premium. Under their proposal, the federal government and hospitals in the state would cover most of the cost.

“I think they’re really afraid of the governor’s veto,” said Rep. Zack Hawkins, who represents the 31st district. And that is what is forging relationships between Republicans and Democrats, he said.

Rep. MaryAnn Black, who represents the 29th district, said she had sensed better relations between the Democrats and Republicans this year than in her previous two years in the House, but others in the delegation disagreed.

“It’s hard to feel optimistic,” Morey said, “but we have to be voices of what I think our values are here in Durham.”

Morey said it’s been frustrating this year to watch the Republican leadership change the rules over and over to get the result they want or to shut down discussion.

“They still have the majority,” McKissick said. “They still have the cards. They can still control the agenda. They still control what bills are heard in committee. And they can still decide the fate of any bill that we file, regardless of whether it has bipartisan support.”

Sen. Mike Woodard, who represents the 22nd district, said he expected to see increasing disputes between the House and Senate as the year progresses.

“I think it’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he said, “with the budget and Medicaid being the primary fights.”

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