After a flurry of supporter statements and testimonies, the Annapolis City Council on Monday night passed non-discrimination legislation aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants from discrimination based on immigration status and unequal treatment by city officials.
The bill passed with six votes with Mayor Mike Pantelides and Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, voting against. Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3, abstained.
Alderman Jared Littmann's, D-Ward 5, legislation offers protections to immigrants barring city officials from denying city services and benefits or inquiring about a person's immigration status unless legally required. While the legislation is written broadly for all immigrants, the spirit of the bill is in protecting undocumented Hispanic/Latino residents in Annapolis. The legislation allows city employees and officials to cooperate with federal officials if legally required.
Annapolis resident Midge Lucas thanked the council before its vote. The more than dozen speakers spoke to raucous applause while members of the audience held up signs in support of the legislation.
"We are here because we have a lot of problems in our country," Lucas said, who also is pastor at Presbyterian Community of the Trinity. "We have a lot of violence in our countries. This community is a lovely place to live and work."
With the passage, Annapolis city officials can't inquire about a person's immigration status unless required by law nor can they deny someone services based on immigration status unless as required by law. But the law doesn't prevent the city from working with federal law enforcement on immigration enforcement activities related to criminal activity. The City Attorney Mike Leahy had pushed back against the legislation, saying it was duplicative as the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides equal protection to all "persons," and city officials aren't allowed to engage in those activities before the legislation was passed.
Much has been made about the law making Annapolis a "sanctuary" city, which is short-hand for cities that have passed laws to protect undocumented immigrants from federal activity. Mayor Mike Pantelides and Littmann have both said they don't believe the law makes Annapolis a sanctuary city as it still allows the city to cooperate with federal authorities.
Just to make sure Pantelides proposed an amendment that states "This chapter shall not cause the City of Annapolis to become a sanctuary city." That amendment passed with Pantelides making it known his support was contingent on that outcome. His amendment was defeated.
Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, raised concerns about passing the legislation with all of its amendments without sending the bill back through other city committees. The legislation went through the city's Rules and City Government Committee. It was to go before the city's Public Safety Committee, but Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, chair of the committee, withdrew her request and invited speakers to the Rules and City Government Committee.
In the lead-up to the vote, Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3, provided a lengthy statement to The Capital about her support for the Annapolis immigrant community and defended her position on the bill. Pindell Charles had raised concerns the legislation would put the city on President Donald Trump's radar. Trump has directed his administration to find sanctuary cities and look for ways to limit federal funding to those areas.
Pindell Charles has proposed two pieces of legislation she said does not "run contrary" to Littmann's legislation. These two bills would add an equal protection clause into the city's Human Resources definitions and would create an "equal protection commission," which would act as forum to discuss, study and enforce the city's equal protection laws.
"After reviewing Alderman Littmann's legislation, and based upon my variety of experiences working with and interacting with the immigrant community consistently for over 12 years — namely, Latino, Asian, and now South Asian — I sincerely believed that we could be take this legislation even further," Pindell Charles said, reading from a statement she drafted.
While the focus of the meeting was predominantly on the non-discrimination ordinance, residents took some of their testimony time to thank former Police Chief Michael Pristoop, who was fired by the mayor on Wednesday. Major Scott Baker was named as interim chief.
"We want to make new the chief of police successful," said Doug Smith, of Annapolis and former Downtown Annapolis Partnership president. "We stand behind supporting the police department and the new chief."
In other business the council held a public hearing on a re-forestation law, proposed by Littmann and Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, which would require businesses to replant each acre of forest they cut down.
This would strengthen the city's law which only requires a quarter acre of forest replanted if developers don't cross a certain threshold.
Opponents believe the law is an additional requirement for developers already jumping the city's bureaucratic hurdles. Supporters of the law believe the legislation would help protect the city's forests and prevent the city from losing acres of forest.
"I urge you to pass this legislation and address the issue of continuing forest loss in the county," said Earl Bradley, Annapolis resident and speaking as a representative of the Anne Arundel Sierra Club.
This article has been updated to correct the name of the Presybyterian Community of the Trinity.