NJ Senate Approves Trump-Inspired Legislation; Two Immigration Bills Fall Short

TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers took another step toward approving legislation that could keep President Donald Trump off the state's election ballot in 2020 unless he reveals his tax returns.

But they failed to advance two other Trump-inspired bills that seek to counteract the president's push to increase the enforcement and deportation of illegal immigrants.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 24-11 to approve legislation to require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their five most recent years of tax returns or forfeit their spots on the general election ballot.

The bill, which would also require the returns to be published on the state Election Law Enforcement Commission website, was introduced in the Senate last month by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-37th of Teaneck, in response to Trump's repeated refusals to release his tax returns.

During the presidential campaign, Trump cited a federal audit for his refusal to release recent returns. For decades, major party candidates for the White House have released them. After the inauguration, Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, said the president would not release them, even after the audit is completed.

"The people of New Jersey deserve better," Weinberg said Monday after the vote.

Republican critics have said the legislation should be amended to require candidates running for governor, Congress or the state Legislature to make the same disclosure.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, who is a sponsor of the bill, has said he's open to the change. The bill was advanced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee last month, but is still awaiting a floor vote by the full chamber.

Meanwhile, the two immigration-related bills fell a few votes short during Monday's Senate session.

The first seeks to clarify that state, county and municipal law enforcement and corrections officers in New Jersey are not to comply with detention retainers, transfer requests or information requests from federal immigration enforcement authorities unless the suspect has been convicted of a serious crime, such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, arson or endangering the welfare of a child.

Suspects accused of some so-called "lower level" offenses such as driving while intoxicated and some drug charges would be excluded.

Sen. Nia Gill, D-34th of Montclair, said the measure is in response to federal court rulings that have found state and local law enforcement are not obligated to honor immigration detainer orders asking them to hold suspected illegal immigrants in custody. The American Civil Liberties Union has also warned that holding suspects solely because of their immigration status is a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unjust searches and seizures.   

"To commandeer our taxpayer dollars in order to turn our local police into federal immigration officers, the court has upheld the rights of states not to do it," Gill said.

Sen. Robert Singer, R-30th of Lakewood, said crimes like DWI should still be included.

"I find DWI being eliminated a disgrace," Singer said on the Senate floor. "It's a serious crime in my business. Usually it's not the first time a person is driving drunk; it's the first time they're caught driving drunk. Maybe it's OK in your district; it ain't OK in mine."

The bill was pulled during the roll call, with the vote showing 18 in favor and 13 opposed. The 18 yeas were three shy of the required 21-vote majority needed to pass the legislation.

Likewise, legislation to reimburse so-called "sanctuary cities" that are stripped of federal funds because of Trump's executive order to withhold aid because they don't cooperate with immigration enforcement was also pulled with the vote at 20-16.

Under the proposal, towns and counties that are denied federal aid because they don't cooperate with immigration authorities would be eligible to apply for additional state aid as compensation.

Trump's Jan. 25 executive order specifies that "jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable federal law do not receive federal funds, except as mandated by law," and that the order is intended to ensure federal immigration laws are followed.

But the order does not specify exactly what federal funding would be withheld.

A fiscal note on the bill prepared by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services said local governments in New Jersey received about $1 billion in federal aid in 2013. But it was unable to specify how much local governments might be docked as a result of the executive order because it has not yet been enforced.

Some New Jersey municipalities, like Jersey City and Newark, have clarified that they would not cooperate with federal immigration authorities' attempts to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation.

The Burlington County Corrections Department has a policy at the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly to not hold people suspected of being undocumented immigrants beyond their normal release date. But the jail does "advise (immigration authorities) of the date and time of an inmate's pending release" if the person is suspected of being in the country without authorization.

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