Left: State Rep. Martina White Right: Mayor Jim Kenney

Correction appended

Pa. Rep. Martina White of Northeast Philly says she’ll reintroduce a sanctuary cities bill next week that could cost Philadelphia hundreds of millions of dollars if it doesn’t comply.

Her bill comes shortly after Senate Bill 10 passed through the Senate with a veto-proof vote of 37-12 and City Solicitor Sozi Tulante announced Philadelphia contracted with two global law firms to aid in its legal efforts regarding sanctuary city disputes.

White’s bill, she said, differs little from the one she proposed last year. Sanctuary cities, called “sanctuary municipalities” in the bill, still have the same definition, and Philadelphia would likely fit into the former camp, given Mayor Jim Kenney’s 2016 executive order barring city police from complying with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Detainer requests are sent to local agencies by ICE to hold individuals in police custody for up to an extra 48 hours after they would normally be released. ICE does not need a warrant to issue a detainer request.

The biggest difference from last year’s bill is the punishment. After passing the House 136-55, the Senate amended the bill so the punishment for sanctuary cities would shift from withholding undefined “Commonwealth funds” to only state grants for police departments — a far tamer punishment. Under White’s forthcoming bill, House Bill 28, those sanctuary cities would lose all state funding that is not mandated by the constitution, she said. White’s staff said this would include many streams of revenue and state grants but no education funding. White, a Republican, and her staff did not have specific answers as to what else counted as constitutionally-mandated funds vs. not constitutionally-mandated funds.

Senate Bill 10 would punish sanctuary cities by making them ineligible just for state grant money. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the potential impact of a loss of state grant money could result in an annual loss of $600 million for Philly and a combined $700 million for the other 18 sanctuary municipalities/counties. Under White’s bill, Philadelphia could lose on the state grants, plus other funding in the hundreds of millions. In the most recent year fiscal year, for instance, $223 million of Philadelphia’s general fund revenue came from state aid.

White said, “My legislation is a bit broader in scope but I think it would provide enough incentive for local municipalities.”

Asked whether she was concerned about Philadelphia losing state funds, she placed the onus on Kenney to comply with the bill if it passes.

“That the mayor has the audacity to side with illegal immigrants who have committed crimes in our city over citizens who have paid taxpayer dollars,” White said, “I think that causes me pause.”

She said she’s received numerous calls and emails from residents in Philly and across the state saying they’re upset the “government is willing to basically put their families in jeopardy for the sake of someone who has committed a crime already and known to be here illegally.”

Kenney has been resolute in maintaining Philadelphia’s sanctuary city status, despite opposition from the state and Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama. His predecessor, Mayor Michael Nutter, withdrew the status late in his tenure under pressure from Obama and then-Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson. Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross have said the city’s decision not to comply with ICE agent detainer requests has made the city safer and allowed for better community-policing relations, with immigrants more willing to act as informants and witnesses.

When the Senate passed SB10, Kenney said in a statement that “policy disagreements should not be settled by defunding entire municipalities.”

White acknowledges a legal challenge would likely follow if her bill is passed and said the measure had been drafted with “previous obstacles” in mind. These challenges could come over what state money would be withheld and the ability of the state to force municipalities to comply with ICE requests. The ACLU has said cooperating with ICE detainer requests could violate the Fourth Amendment and has litigated two cases in Pennsylvania in which citizens were illegally held because of an ICE request. Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of ACLU Pennsylvania, said the agency would consider legal action if a sanctuary cities bill passes.

“The problem with this bill is that what it does is put cities and counties in a difficult position where they either have to run the risk of being held liable or…[having] those resources withheld,” Randol said. “It’s a lose-lose proposition.”

Tulante and the City Solicitor’s office declined to comment.

When White’s bill passed last year with 70 percent of the House in support, it appeared primed for Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk. But it stalled in the Senate after the chambers couldn’t agree on revisions by the end of the session. The biggest obstacle could be less about opposition — Democrats have supported past anti-sanctuary city legislation enough to nullify a Wolf veto — than riding one bill to the finish line.

And, should her bill pass, White said she’s not concerned about the possible monetary consequences.

“It comes down to the mayor’s decision, and zero dollars, literally zero dollars, will be withheld if he just complies,” White said. “That’s my thing. The legislation doesn’t cost anything. It’s really up to what the local municipalities have to do.”

Mark Dent

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...