As expected, the Bill of Rights Sanctuary County Ordinance proposed by Commissioner Chris Hall was adopted by the Board of County Commissioners yesterday. The vote of 4 to 1 followed more than three hours of comments from the public and the Board. Commissioner Burt Saunders was the sole opposing vote.
For background, see my post, BCC to Consider Sanctuary County Ordinance, 8/20/23.
In this post, I’ll share comments by each of the five commissioners, which show their rationales for their votes, as well as comments by Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, who supported the ordinance. Then I’ll share my takeaways from the commissioners’ discussions.
Commissioner Hall (District 2)
Having introduced the ordinance, Commissioner Chris Hall was the first to speak (Recording here, at 3:32). He began by saying he was bringing the ordinance forward to fulfill a campaign promise. “What made me run for this office was I got mad during COVID when I saw all of the injustices brought to the people by the federal government or by three letter agencies that didn’t even have legislative authority,” he said.
He said he read “every email that’s come forth” and that “there’s a lot of fallacy.” “It’s not for the board of commissioners or the future board of commissioners to decide what’s constitutional or what’s not constitutional,” he said. Rather, the ordinance ”allows you, the people, to be protected from anything that comes down that’s unconstitutional or what we would call an unlawful act.”
“You don’t have to be a constitutional attorney to figure out what’s constitutional or not,” he said, anticipating comments that were made soon after by Commissioner Burt Saunders and several public speakers.
Commissioner Saunders (District 3)
“How is it determined that some federal action is unconstitutional?” Saunders asked, being the next commissioner to speak. “Although this is a well-written document, and it’s very persuasive, it doesn’t really address the issue,” he said, “which is vagueness and how this is going to be enforced. What is the role of the sheriff in all this? And how is that role to be clarified?”
Another concern, said Saunders, is that it sends the wrong message to the public. He referred to one member of the public who spoke about gun rights and what’s happened in New York State. “He apparently is under the impression that this ordinance will give him some rights to deal with federal rules that may come out of Washington dealing with gun issues,” he said.
“We just don’t have the ability to determine whether a federal rule, a federal law, a federal program, using the terms of this ordinance, ‘violates or unreasonably restricts, impedes or impinges upon an individual’s constitutional rights.’” he said. “I don’t know what that means.”
“I absolutely support and would defend the Constitution of the United States and would strive to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens,” Saunders said. “But I don’t believe this is the right way to do it. And I think it sends the wrong message. So even though I think this is well intended, I can’t support it,” he concluded.
Commissioner Kowal (District 4)
Commissioner Dan Kowal made a distinction between laws passed by the federal or state legislature and executive orders or agency policies. Courts come into play if someone is accused of breaking a law, he said.
But “we have an opportunity to look at” executive orders and policies coming from an agency, he said. “The perfect example I have to keep coming back to is the pandemic.” He may have been referring to, among other things, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Executive Order #2020-32 declaring a state of emergency as a result of COVID-19 and the Board of County Commissioners’ subsequent 2020 emergency mask order.
Collier County’s emergency order referred to the DeSantis Executive Order. On the date of this post, that order is marked “confidential” on the Governor’s Executive Order web page. Former President Trump’s Mar. 13, 2020, executive order declaring a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak is here.
Kowal closed by saying that the ordinance is “to protect you from us.” “It’s just a check and balance on us and future boards as we move forward” when “faced with another pandemic or epidemic.”
Commissioner McDaniel (District 5)
“I haven’t changed my mind from two years ago,” McDaniel said after the public speakers had spoken. “I believe that this is a reaffirmation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe that it’s an additional protection for the citizens of Collier County. I don’t think it takes away from the rights that our citizens currently already have. And I’m in support,” he said.
Commissioner LoCastro (District 1)
“I don’t believe this ordinance nullifies federal laws that we don’t like,” LoCastro said. “It’s a preparatory step that has the citizens’ backs and allows us to strengthen our ability to merely question federal law if or when we feel our federal government is overreaching outside of their authority.”
“This doesn’t make us a lawless county, as some people said, but makes us a law-focused one,” he continued.
“I’m not nervous or disappointed that we will be the first county in Florida to pass this ordinance,” he concluded. “I’m actually proud of it.”
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk commented on the ordinance via Zoom. (Recording here, at 4:00).
He began by explaining how the Sheriff’s Office investigates misdemeanors.
He then reminded the commissioners that he is already on the record as supporting the ordinance, referring to when it came before the prior board in 2021, and said that support has not changed.
“We don’t know how there’d be an expectation of us to oppose the ordinance because of the very elements of the oath of office and duty as law enforcement officers that specifically include supporting, protecting, and defending the Constitution,” he said.
He was asked by Saunders if he, as sheriff, would determine the validity of a particular statute.
“In general,” Rambosk said, he would enforce a statute or law until advised by, in Saunders’ words, “the right authority that it’s not constitutional.”
“However,” Rambosk continued, speaking slowly and deliberately, “if we believed, and our legal staff told us, that in their opinion, it is unconstitutional, and we had the right evidence, court cases, and information to support that, then we would take the appropriate action.”
“Would that appropriate action be going to the judge to rule in terms of whether that statute is constitutional?” Saunders asked. “I’m just trying to get at, do you, can you make that determination? And I think you’re saying sort of, no, you can’t. But maybe you can.”
“You know, we do that each and every day,” Rambosk replied. “We look at a case, we determine whether we believe it fits within the criteria of the law. And I think even with a constitutional complaint, we would make that assessment. And if we believe it rose to that level, we may have to take it to court.”
The four commissioners who voted for the ordinance cited their firm belief that it is their role and responsibility to protect citizen freedoms and limit government overreach as the reason.
They all also seemed to believe that they have the right and the authority to do so, even without a ruling of the courts. “The people give the federal government power,” Hall said. “The federal government does not tell the people what to do.”
“You don’t have to be a constitutional attorney to figure out what’s constitutional or not,” Hall also said. “If anything comes down that is … obvious that is not constitutional,” he said, “the people have the right to fight back.
While saying that he supports and “would defend” the Constitution, Saunders challenged the presumption that commissioners have the authority to make that decision. But he was out-voted.
This ordinance will likely have no effect on our daily lives unless or until there is another national emergency that results in an executive order that puts public safety ahead of the freedoms of the individual. Or unless a federal law limiting gun ownership passes. Or… ??
Given the increasing polarization of our country, who knows what will happen?