A group of state lawmakers contemplating the introduction of Arizona-style immigration laws here in Colorado, have traveled to Phoenix on their own dime seeking guidance–while at least one lawmaker here at home is critical of their agenda.
The lawmakers, all Republican, will be meeting with Arizona lawmakers today for what the GOP’s Rep. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs describes as an “exchange of ideas.” The conversation will be centered on Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the recently enacted and controversial state law that is now embroiled in lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. The group intends to formulate legislation to be offered in January of 2011 when the state legislature convenes.
In addition to Lambert, the lawmakers making the trek to Arizona are Sens. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs, Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, Scott Renfroe of Greeley; and Reps. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, Laura Bradford of Collbran, and Ken Summers of Lakewood.
Lambert said Arizona and Colorado are facing similar issues, particularly involving illegal immigration, and the meeting of the minds will foster solutions Colorado should be considering. Despite the controversies, Lambert also said he believes other states, like Colorado, will soon join Arizona in crafting similar legislation.
“We don’t often get a chance to discuss things state to state, and that’s the direction we’re going to have to take on this if the federal government is not doing their job,” said Lambert.
However, Lambert readily concedes the political realities needed to pass legislation are significantly different in Colorado than in Arizona.
“The Republicans have majorities in both houses and the governorship which makes it a little bit different than Colorado and that’s why we have run some of the same legislation as they have but have been unsuccessful in getting it through,” said Lambert.
Democratic Senate Majority leader John Morse, also of Colorado Springs, said he doesn’t take issue with the Republican lawmakers conferring with their counterparts in Arizona, but he does have an issue with the type of legislation the Republicans may be proposing regarding illegal immigration.
“As a former law enforcement officer, the Arizona law offends me deeply,” said Morse, noting that in his view, “it is unconstitutional as the Dickens.” He also asserts that the Arizona law erodes trust between the public and law enforcement when people are stopped and questioned because, “your skin is brown,” saying that, “policing is all about community trust. When you do not have the community’s trust it is impossible, and things become much more dangerous for everyone, and in my view, especially the cops.”
Yet, Lambert said states have lost trust with the federal government to address problems with illegal immigration, and are now taking action at the state level.
“[Arizona] SB 1070 recognizes that the federal government is not enforcing federal law and I think this is going to be very, very, popular in other states. Somebody needs to be doing something about this and if the federal government refuses than the states will do something about it,” said Lambert.
Despite their opposing views on illegal immigration, both Lambert and Morse agree there are problems facing Colorado that loom large, and will command attention when the legislature convenes in January with the state budget deficit eclipsing most issues.
“Our most important issue this year will be trying to balance the budget without increasing taxes,” said Lambert, adding that Arizona is facing similar budget woes, some of which he feels are exasperated by the effects of illegal immigration.
“Arizona is more of a gateway state than Colorado is, but we have some of the same effects of illegal immigration on education, on crime, on drugs, on health care, and on transportation,” said Lambert.
However, Morse said he believes Colorado should focus on the things other than illegal immigration when looking at the budget, and that any problems associated with illegal immigration should be addressed at the federal level.
“I think that Colorado has huge issues in making sure that we educate our children, making sure that you can see a doctor before you get sicker, that we make sure that every child that is abused or neglected has a place to be,” said Morse. “We are so far behind in meeting our own responsibilities that for us to take on the responsibilities of the federal government makes no sense to me. We would just be urinating in the wind. It’s a federal issue and we don’t have jurisdiction, we don’t have the resources to house these people and actually do the hearings that need to be done. We live by the rule of law in this country and that law is federal, always has been federal, always will be federal–let’s stick to our knitting.”