Howard County executive will veto council's 'sanctuary' measure

Howard County Exec Kittleman says he'll veto sanctuary' bill.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said Tuesday that he will veto a controversial bill declaring the county a safe place for illegal immigrants and limiting county employees' involvement in enforcing federal immigration law.

Members of the County Council had stripped the bill of its "sanctuary county" label before approving it, 3-2, Monday night.

Still, Kittleman decried the measure, calling it "irresponsible to hastily file this legislation."

"If the sponsors had reached out to key stakeholders prior to filing the legislation, they would have learned that it was unnecessary," said Kittleman, a Republican. "They would have heard from the Police Department, other government agencies and organizations supporting immigrants that, in Howard County, we do not have a problem with this issue."

As of late Tuesday, the council had not officially presented the bill to Kittleman. The county executive said he will veto it "as soon as possible."

Such a move would likely kill the matter. A 4-1 margin would be needed to override the veto.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa, originally was written to declare Howard a sanctuary county where police officers and most government employees would be prohibited from asking residents about their immigration status.

The bill would have codified the county's current practices. Proponents said that was necessary to assure residents fearful for their safety. Howard officials have said police already don't investigate immigration issues or ask residents about their status.

The bill was tweaked in an attempt to allay fears the federal government might pull funding from the county, including clarifying that police could communicate with federal authorities on public safety issues. The council also removed the term "sanctuary" from the bill.

There is no accepted legal definition of a "sanctuary" jurisdiction, a label given to cities and counties with an array of policies about not assisting with immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes sanctuary jurisdictions, counts more than 300 cities, counties and states with sanctuary policies or laws.

The Howard County bill inspired weeks of intense debate in the suburban jurisdiction — a debate that intensified after President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. That ban has been challenged in the courts.

The County Council conducted two long evening hearings with on the measure, and more than 200 people turned out to Monday's council session to witness the vote. Supporters wore green, opponents dressed in red.

Councilman Greg Fox, the council's lone Republican, questioned the need for the bill during Monday's meeting, saying he felt it was poorly conceived and increased divisiveness.

"I've seen nothing that demonstrates the need for additional protection," he said.

The other dissenting vote came from Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat, who said the bill was "purely symbolic."

"An issue of this importance demands a thorough, inclusive and rational deliberative process," Weinstein said.

Ball and Terrasa were joined by Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty in voting for the bill.

Terrasa said Tuesday she had hoped Kittleman might have changed his mind about the veto, but she'll now lobby her colleagues to override it.

"We hope for an override, but if we don't succeed in that, then we continue," Terrasa said. "This is not the end from our perspective."

Ball said regardless of what happens with the bill, he will work to protect "the most vulnerable" residents of the county, including undocumented students and others who he said "live in the shadows" due to their legal status.

"We will continue to fight for our values," he said.

At his new conference Tuesday, Kittleman was joined by county Police Chief Gary Gardner, chief administrative officer Lonnie Robbins and officials from the Department of Community Resources and Services. He said police and community resource employees have the most interaction with residents and had not experienced issues related to immigration.

He also said he's heard no reports of anyone in Howard being harassed by county police or county employees over their immigration status.

"Always, our county employees have treated people with respect. Always," Kittleman said. "It just really bothers me that somebody would come out and imply that we're not doing that."

Supporters of the bill had argued that county policies needed to be placed into law so they couldn't be undone easily.

Kittleman said there had been some discussion leading up to Monday's vote about a "compromise statement" regarding the issue, "but that didn't come through."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Fatimah Waseem contributed to this article.

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