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Special session on immigration would be costly

by Daily Inter Lake
| May 12, 2024 12:00 AM

State House leadership last week called on legislators to immediately convene for a special session to discuss an issue that’s “crucial” to Montana residents.

Finally, we thought, they’re going to figure out equitable property tax relief. Or maybe they want to address the dire need for school funding reform after seeing so many local school levies and bonds fail during Tuesday’s election.

Nope, and nope again.

Instead, House Speaker Matt Regier has requested a special session on ... illegal immigration.

“Every town in Montana is at risk if we do not act,” Regier warned in an op-ed featured on today’s Perspective page. The knee-jerk opinion piece referenced two migrant families’ arrival to the Flathead Valley last week as the need for an immediate resolution, even though the facts about that case remain murky at best.

Nonetheless, Regier is requesting legislative action on the regulation of “illegal alien entry into Montana,” as well as regulation in relation to illegal aliens and “nonprofits, organizations, individuals and businesses.”

“State law must be defined to allow Montana officials the authority to regulate entry into our state,” Regier wrote in the request. “Public safety demands that we act expeditiously on this issue. If we do not take swift action, we could see an increasing magnitude of illegal activity in Montana, specifically at our state’s northern border.”

While the request doesn’t plainly state the tools law enforcement should be given to crack down on undocumented migrants, one can look to Texas as an example of how a state government has challenged federal authority on immigration. Last year, Texas’ Legislature passed a controversial law that allows police to arrest people suspected of entering the state illegally. That legislation is tied up in court after the Biden administration sued the Lone Star state on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional and conflicts with federal immigration laws.

Still, other states like Iowa and Oklahoma have since followed suit and used Texas’ law as a road map. Not surprisingly, a legal complaint was filed last week challenging Iowa’s new law just a month after it was passed. 

Is this the path Regier hopes to lead Montana down — into a tangled mess of litigation?

In considering his request for a special session, legislators must factor in the costly legal battle that would follow with the passage of any law that mirrors Texas’ actions. Hasn’t the Legislature racked up enough attorney fees on other questionable legislation passed during the 2023 session? 

That’s not even to mention the financial burden of holding a special session, which can easily ring up to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars. It should be noted that Regier also wants a special session to rehash Senate Bill 442 on marijuana tax revenue, while other Republicans want a separate special session on partisan judicial elections.

Prudence must be exercised when calling for a special session — reserving those opportunities for measures of necessity, not rabble-rousing and politicking. Legislators would be wise to let all of these die on the vine.