by Don Walton
Sen. Mike Johanns on Thursday introduced legislation that would require the federal government to pay legal costs incurred by local and state governments if it pursues and loses lawsuits against local immigration laws.
The legislation would apply to both the recent Fremont city ordinance and Arizona state law aimed at illegal immigrants.
Federal officials have argued state and local laws may not unconstitutionally interfere with federal authority over immigration.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Arizona earlier this month.
The Fremont ordinance banning hiring or renting to illegal immigrants was officially certified this week by the city council after voters approved an initiative vote.
Johanns said he just wants to "level the playing field for states and communities that might otherwise be crushed financially by federal litigation."
"An unfair battle is unfolding," the Republican senator said during a conference call from Washington.
The vast resources of the federal government are pitted against local and state governments with limited resources and severe budgetary challenges, he said.
Just the threat of federal lawsuits can have "a very chilling impact on local decisions," Johanns said.
State and local governments are acting because the federal government has "neglected its responsibility" on immigration enforcement, Johanns said.
The Arizona law, scheduled to go into effect later this month, would require law enforcement officers to question suspects about their immigration status when there is "reasonable suspicion" they may not be in the country legally.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has placed Nebraska on the side of Arizona in defending its right to enact the state law.
Johanns said he hopes his bill would "make the federal government think twice before it sues states and cities over immigration laws."