AUGUSTA — House Democrats moved Tuesday to quickly squash a proposal from Gov. Paul LePage to withhold state funding from municipalities that prohibit police from asking about a person’s immigration status or that do not share immigration information with federal authorities.

Democrats’ decision to send LePage’s immigration proposal to legislative limbo without debate also underscores the increasingly tense relations between the Republican governor’s office and Democratic leaders as the session enters its final weeks.

“In one fell swoop, he would both set up police to pull over people based on the color of their skin and punish communities by withholding their funding if they don’t go along,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in a prepared statement. “We have no place for these blatantly racist Trump-like maneuvers in Maine.”

LePage’s short but sweeping bill appeared targeted at so-called “sanctuary cities” that have policies or practices prohibiting inquiries – whether from police or municipal employees – about an individual’s immigration status.

The late-session bill would have denied municipalities state funding for education and General Assistance as well as any portion of the state’s “revenue sharing” pie for such policies, whether they were formal written ordinances or informal policies. Towns also would have been deemed ineligible for that state funding if they did not share information with federal immigration officials.

“I put in the bill because we have a problem – not just in Maine but all over the country – of municipal and state governments refusing to cooperate with federal immigration law and of basically harboring illegal immigrants,” said Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, who sponsored the bill, L.D. 1652, on LePage’s behalf.


But advocates for Maine’s immigrant population as well as a representative from the Maine Municipal Association said they were not aware of any “sanctuary cities” in the state.

“It does appear to be focused on ‘sanctuary cities,’ but it doesn’t have a practical purpose here,” said Sue Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project. “And it does seem to be targeting immigrants.”

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined to discuss the bill on Tuesday because she had not been briefed on the issue. But the bill is consistent with LePage’s focus on curtailing state support for so-called undocumented immigrants.

On his very first day in office in January 2011, LePage issued an executive order that he said was aimed at ending Maine’s status as a “sanctuary state.” LePage rescinded a 2004 executive order issued by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, that prohibited state officials from asking about a person’s immigration status or disclosing that information except during investigations into illegal activity or in other specific circumstances.

LePage has continued to assert that Portland and some other Maine towns are sanctuary cities, such as during a September campaign stop in New Hampshire with his friend and former presidential contender, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Asked Tuesday about the issue, Portland City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Maine’s largest municipality “is not a sanctuary city.”


“While Chapter 2 of our city code does state that city employees are not to ask the immigration status of individuals who are seeking city services, unless ordered to do so by a court or law, the ordinance further states that law enforcement personnel are to cooperate with federal officials, which is contrary to what a sanctuary city would do,” Grondin wrote in an email.

LePage’s bill appears to be a continuation of his push to exert financial pressure on municipalities – most notably Portland – that provide assistance to immigrants who are living in Maine without visas. That population of immigrants, whom LePage often refers to as “illegal immigrants,” often includes individuals who are seeking asylum in the U.S. from persecution in their home countries.

Many asylum seekers arrive in Maine on temporary student, work or visitation visas but then file for asylum, a process that typically takes years. Cities such as Portland, Westbrook and Lewiston have struggled with whether to continue to provide General Assistance to asylum seekers – who cannot legally work for at least six months after they file for asylum – in the face of moves by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit state welfare funds from flowing to the population.

The House’s 77-67 vote to have the bill “tabled unassigned” doesn’t kill the bill but, instead, means the legislation will linger in the House until House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, decides to “remove it from the table.” McCabe showed little inclination Tuesday to do that and suggested he could employ a similar tactic against other controversial, late-session bills from the governor that he deemed “political in nature.”

“The committees have plenty of work to do,” McCabe said afterward.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine cheered the House Democratic maneuver.


“Police can do their job better when every member of the community feels safe talking to them,” Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “We should be encouraging law enforcement to build trust among immigrant communities – not punishing them for doing so.”

But Lockman, the bill’s sponsor, predicted that the votes to table the bill without a public hearing on Tuesday will still haunt the lawmakers.

“I think it shows the length to which the Democratic leadership will go to protect their members because they are on the wrong side of this issue,” Lockman said. “The public is concerned about public safety.”


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