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Massachusetts GOPs Try to Stop Bills Coming Out of Trump Working Group

State Rep. Ilhan Omar takes the oath of office as the 2017 Legislature convened in St. Paul, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Minority Republicans in the Massachusetts Legislature are doing what they can to stop a Democrat from blocking local sheriffs who want to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement find illegal immigrants and prevent them from sending inmate labor south to help the Trump administration build its wall on the border with Mexico.

So far, the GOP’s best has not been good enough.

Rep. Antonio Cabral (D) introduced both bills. They are the first proposals to come out of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s Trump working group.

H 3034 would prevent inmates in Massachusetts from being sent to labor on out-of-state projects. The bill is intended to scuttle Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s plan to send county jail inmates south to help build the proposed border wall.

The House approved the legislation May 24 and sent it to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Even House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R) had a tough time opposing H 3034. He said it would be a good idea to use Massachusetts prison labor in the Bay State.

“My guess is that there’s a lot of things in the commonwealth that can be done,” Jones said. “If that’s something that can be done as part of punishment or whatever you want to call it, it seems to me that there are opportunities here first and foremost.”

“Massachusetts law is now abundantly clear that inmate work programs must take place within the boundaries of the Commonwealth so that the benefits of these programs are recouped right here in our communities, saving state taxpayers money. Rehabilitation should be the main goal of these programs,” Cabral wrote on his Facebook page.

The State House News Service reported Sheriff Hodgson accused Cabral of putting “politics over the safety of the community.”

The second proposal, H 3033, seeks to prevent the use of state resources to give ICE authority to state or local police officers. It was not as successful as H 3034.

House Republicans were able to block a vote on H 3033 and send it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Cabral said two county sheriffs and the Massachusetts Department of Correction had signed agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide training to local officers. But Cabral also said no corrections or law enforcement officers from Massachusetts had been sent yet to South Carolina for training.

Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo credited “calls, emails & strong voice” of those in Massachusetts opposed to the legislation with defeating H 3033, which he called a “sanctuary state” law.

Marion Davis, communications director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said her organization was “disappointed” with the defeat of H 3033.

Davis told the State House News Service, “We feel that it’s important for the House to take a strong stand that Massachusetts resources should be used for Massachusetts people, not to implement a federal deportation agenda.”

Rep. DeLeo (D) brought together nine House Democrats in March to form this working group because he was “deeply worried” about Trump administration policies.

“At its core, this group is tasked with finding practical ways to safeguard our residents and our economy in a way that works for each corner of the Commonwealth,” DeLeo said. “While I’m deeply worried by actions of the Trump administration, I believe that Massachusetts can maintain its national leadership and become a model during these troubling times.”

DeLeo told reporters in February that the working group would focus on pushing anti-Trump legislation instead of just resolutions voicing opposition to White House policies.

House Minority Leader Jones was not asked to be part of the group. Jones told WBUR said he wasn’t surprised to be ignored since “thus far this has been a partisan undertaking and I have no indication it will not remain as such.”

House Majority Leader Ron Mariano (D) told WBUR that Jones was correct on both counts. It is a partisan undertaking “because it’s generated by the acts of the Republican president,” and that it is not going to change because “we don’t want to turn this into a debating society.”

Even if H 3033 never makes it out of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jones and his fellow Republicans aren’t finished saving the Trump administration from Massachusetts Democrats.

DeLeo’s working group is also concerned with what the Trump administration might have planned for women’s healthcare and proposed federal budget cuts that would reduce funding from the National Institutes of Health for Massachusetts hospitals and research facilities.

“If that happens and the block grant stuff does come down, I think we all go look for jobs in gas stations,” Rep. James Arciero (D) said. “I’m going to work in a bakery.”