The Montana Senate Monday offered its support to a controversial bill that would ban sanctuary cities in the state.
Under House Bill 200, the state would have the power to level fines and withhold grant funding from cities with policies preventing cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
“What it gets down to is legal versus illegal. If you’re here legally, fine. If you’re here illegally, you should be worried," said Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, who is carrying the bill in the Senate.
The Senate gave HB 200 initial approval on nearly party lines Monday. It faces a final vote in the chamber before moving to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who said he would sign the bill into law during his State of the State address in January.
During a floor debate, Missoula Democratic Sen. Ellie Boldman chastised Republicans for presenting policy that veers from one of the caucus’ major goals of strengthening the economy.
“It does nothing to make Montana better. It sends a horrible discriminatory message," Boldman said.
A representative for the governor’s office and private citizens have testified in support of HB 200, while various faith leaders and representatives for the ACLU of Montana and Montana League of Cities and Towns, among other groups, have spoken against it.
There aren’t any sanctuary cities in Montana, though Regier said Helena and Butte-Silver Bow County passed resolutions alluding to such status.
Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.