Jesse Laslovich’s Voting Record on Immigration Bills in the Montana Legislature

Jesse Laslovich is running for Montana Attorney General, and faces a Democratic primary this June.  Jesse Laslovich has served in the Montana legislature since 2000 — first in the Montana State House of Representatives (from 2000-2004) and then in the Montana Senate (from 2004-2010).  The purpose of this post is to analyze his voting record on immigration bills that have come before him.

This research revealed some interesting surprises.

Since 2005, several bills have been sponsored to involve the State of Montana in enforcement of federal immigration laws.  In reviewing a legislator’s voting record on immigration bills, it is important to note that prior to 2007, there were few or no lobbying groups or non-profit entities that were working to lobby or educate on the issue of immigration in Montana.  In 2007, federal immigration reform became a hotly discussed issue, leading to more state-level bills and greater public debate.  At the same time, groups like the Montana Human Rights Network began to lobby on the issue of immigration for the first time.  The record reveals the value that this increased participation has produced.  While major Democratic party leadership voted inconsistently on immigration issues prior to 2007, there was a nearly uniform party stance with regard to these bills in the 2009 and 2011 legislatures — with Democrats opposing state involvement in federal immigration laws, and Republicans in support.

2001 and 2003 Sessions

No relevant immigration-related bills were discovered during the 2001 and 2003 legislative sessions, when Jesse Laslovich served in the House.

2005 Session

This was Jesse Laslovich’s first session in the Senate.  During this session, Jesse Laslovich sponsored SB 149, with the short title:  ”State service contracts to be performed by citizen, legal alien, or visa holder.”  The bill would have amended an existing statute to require that state service contracts include language stating that “only citizens of the United States, legal resident aliens, or individuals with a valid visa will perform the services under the contract or any subcontract under the contract.”

The bill did not use the term “illegal alien” and did not seek to impose and civil or criminal penalties.

The bill included a clause stating that its new terms do not apply ”if the department determines that there is no responsible vendor meeting the requirements,” if “the cost of complying . . . would create an economic hardship for the state” or if it “would not be in the best interests of the state.”

The minutes from the hearing reveal the reasons that Jesse Laslovich brought the bill:

SEN. LASLOVICH stated that he was bringing the bill forward as the result of a request from a constituent. His constituent asked him what he could do to help prevent the outsourcing of jobs from Montana. He went on to say that he had contacted a friend from the Michigan Legislature who informed him about a bill that Michigan had tried to put through, and this bill was modeled after that bill. SEN. LASLOVICH explained that what the bill would do is prevent state agencies from entering into contracts for the purchase of services with persons, companies or agencies not citizens of the United States.  He informed the Committee that the Department of Administration stood in opposition to this bill because of what they felt would be unintended consequences.

Don Judge, who is running for House District 82 and also faces a primary this June, came out in support of the bill.  He spoke on behalf of Teamsters Local 190, saying “that they understood there could be some concerns regarding this legislation, however, his organization stood in support of the bill.”

The bill ultimately passed the Senate and was transmitted to the House, where it was tabled in committee.  This is the only bill that Jesse Laslovich has sponsored in his legislative career that directly dealt with the issue of immigration.

During the same session, HB 304 was sponsored by Diane Rice (R) to prevent a “person commonly known as an illegal alien” from operating a motor vehicle in the state or getting a driver’s license.  This bill passed the House and was transmitted to the Senate.

Montana progressives may be surprised by some of the bill’s supporters, including Robyn Driscoll (D), Kevin Furey (D), Gail Gutsche (D), Carol Juneau (D), Christine Kaufmann (D), and Dave Wanzenried (D).  Mary Caferro (D) was only one of six who voted against the bill on seceond reading.  I was unable to determine if there was some strategy behind the decision to vote for this bill, but on its face this would be viewed as an “incorrect” vote to avoid state involvement in enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The bill passed the House and was transmitted to the Senate, where it was tabled in the Senate Judiciary committee on which Jesse Laslovich served.

When groups like the Montana Human Rights Network began to work on immigration issues in 2007, and were able to lobby and provide greater education on the issues, these prominent Democrats would vote dramatically differently in later sessions.

It should be noted that another law restricting driver’s licenses based on immigration status actually passed that year instead of HB 304. Another bill, HB 385, imposed the language that was in our laws until just recently, restricting a license to any person “who does not submit proof satisfactory to the department that the applicant’s presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.”  This bill passed the House, and also passed the Senate in a 48-0 vote, with Jesse Laslovich joining in the unanimous decision.

2007 Session

In the 2007 session, when Jesse Laslovich was serving as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, there were several anti-immigrant bills sponsored by Jim Shockley.  One of them was SB 260, which would make it a felony for an “illegal alien” to register to vote.  This bill died on second reading in the Senate, with Jesse Laslovich voting to kill the bill.

Another bill was SB 389, which would allow state or local police officers to detain and question people about their federal immigration status.  The bill was tabled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Jesse Laslovich voting against allowing it to move to second reading.  Therefore, the bill died in standing committee.

Jim Shockley also sponsored SB 258, which would deny state licenses and license renewal to “illegal aliens.”  The bill passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs (which Jesse Laslovich was not a member of).  The bill passed second reading, with Jesse Laslovich voting against the bill.  He voted against the bill on third reading as well, but the bill was transmitted to the House.  The House amended the bill and returned it to the Senate, where Jesse Laslovich again voted against it.  The bill finally died in the Senate on a close 25-25 vote.

My research only revealed one bill during the 2007 session in which Jesse Laslovich voted in favor of imposing restrictions or penalties based on federal immigration status.

SB 346 would have “prohibited certain contracts with illegal aliens.”  In its original language, the bill used the offensive and inaccurate term “illegal alien” throughout the text.  However, this term was stricken and amended to read “unauthorized alien,” which is a defined term within the Immigration and Nationality Act.  As amended, the bill would have prohibited the state from entering into a public contract or subcontract with any person who knowingly employs or contracts with an unauthorized alien, prohibited an unauthorized alien from contracting with the state, and provided criminal penalties (as a misdemeanor) for any unauthorized alien who violated the law.

After being amended, the bill passed Executive Action in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 11 to 1.  Carol Juneau (D) was the sole ‘No’ vote.  The committee members who voted for the bill were Jesse Laslovich; Lynda Moss (D);  Gary Perry (R); Aubyn Curtiss (R); Larry Jent (D); Dan McGee (R); Jerry O’Neil (R); Gerald Pease (D); Jim Shockley (R); Dave Wanzenried (D); and Carol Williams (D).

The bill ultimately passed the Senate 33-17.  Jesse Laslovich voted to pass the bill.  Other notable votes in favor included:  Steve Gallus (D), Kim Gillan (D), and Larry Jent (D).  Notable votes against the bill included:  Joe Balyeat (R), Carol Juneau (D), and Christine Kaufmann (D).  Also notable is the fact that Lynda Moss (D), Dave Wanzenried (D), and Carol Williams (D) changed their votes to ‘No’ after previously voting to pass it out of committee.

SB 346 died in the House, and was not enacted into law.  While there were some other immigration-related bills in the 2007 session, my research did not reveal any others where Jesse Laslovich had occasion to vote on them.

2009 Session

I have written about the 2009 legislative session in some detail on this blog.  This was the first session in which I actively lobbied in support of immigrant rights, and it was also the most contentious session to date on the issue of state immigration enforcement.  There were 11 relevant anti-immigrant bills that were sponsored during this session by David Howard (R), Gary MacLaren (R), Edward Butcher (R), Gary Perry (R), and Jim Shockley (R).  A description and summary of most of the bills can be found here.

Many of these bills originated in the House and were tabled or defeated before being transmitted to the Senate.  Therefore, Jesse Laslovich only had occasion to vote on a few of these bills.  On all but one of the bills that he was presented with, he made a “correct” vote against state-level enforcement of federal immigration laws.

SB 379 would have made it a misdemeanor or felony to transport, move, conceal, harbor, or shield any alien that you know to be undocumented.  It would also have made it a misdemeanor or felony to encourage an undocumented alien to enter or remain in the state without status.  The bill would also have provided for forfeiture of property belonging to anyone convicted of any of those offenses.  Jesse Laslovich voted against the bill at every vote, but it still passed the Senate.  It was transmitted to the House, where it was tabled in committee.

SB 380 would have required the county treasurer’s office to investigate immigration status and deny motor vehicle registration to undocumented immigrants.  The bill would have resulted in less accurate motor vehicle registrations.  Rather than throwing their hands in the air and going home, undocumented immigrants would simply register in other people’s names or not register at all.  Jesse Laslovich’s Senate Judiciary committee tabled the bill.

SB 381 would have required the state to enter into a costly Memorandum of Understanding so that the Highway Patrol could be deputized to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents and enforce immigration laws.  This was sponsored by Shockley and passed the Senate Judiciary committee.  Jesse Laslovich voted against the bill at every vote, but it still passed and was transmitted to the House.  It was ultimately tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.

SB 382 would have required the state to expend significant time and resources “cooperating with” the federal government in immigration investigations, and would have prohibited any law that would conflict with obligations to “cooperate with” the federal government.  Once again, Jesse Laslovich voted against the bill at every vote, but it still passed and was transmitted to the House.  It was ultimately tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.

SB 377 would have prevented an employer from being able to deduct any wages or salary paid to an unauthorized alien.  Our fear was that the law would make employers less likely to hire “foreign” looking employees – even those who are authorized for employment – because the potential sanction is so severe.  We also had concerns about how it could be implemented, as the Montana Department of Revenue has no existing method of determining this information.  The bill ultimately passed the Senate on a 32-17 vote, with Jesse Laslovich voting in support of the bill.  However, the bill was ultimately tabled in the House.

Conclusion

The value of having a lengthy voting record is the ability to analyze these votes and potentially extrapolate future outcomes.

Jesse Laslovich voted on three relevant bills in 2005, four relevant bills in 2007, and five relevant bills in 2009 — for  total of 12 bills relating to state-level enforcement of immigration laws.

There were a total of four votes that I would characterize as “incorrect” votes, including one bill that he sponsored.  However, as noted above, the bill he sponsored in 2005 did not attempt to create any enforcement mechanism or penalties.  Therefore, it is not in quite the same category as the later bills sponsored by Jim Shockley and others.

In the 2007 session, Jesse Laslovich was a swing vote that killed SB 258, which would deny state licenses and license renewal to “illegal aliens.”  This was a 25-25 vote.

In the 2009 session, which was Jesse Laslovich’s last session in the Senate, he played an important role on the Senate Judiciary Committee as several of Jim Shockley’s anti-immigrant bills were debated.  In each instance that a bill passed out of that committee, it was on a 7-5 vote with Jesse Laslovich opposing.

As the same objective data can have multiple interpretations, this information is provided for your own review and consideration.  This is the first post in a series about the 2012 election, and a subsequent post is planned to focus on Jesse Laslovich’s opponent, Pam Bucy.

If you have any questions or concerns about this data, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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