By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis will prioritize a controversial proposal that would require Florida businesses to use a federal system to check the immigration status of new hires, but the leader of the Florida Senate said Tuesday he is “cautious” about passing such a plan.
“I expect there will be a robust debate, but the case is going to have to be made before it passes. It is not guaranteed,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters and editors gathered at an annual Associated Press pre-session event at the Capitol.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, recently filed legislation that would require private employers to use E-Verify, something DeSantis said is the “the best way to help deter illegal immigration.”
“It will end up saving taxpayers money, and obviously, it will be a deterrent for people coming here illegally,” DeSantis said.
The governor said he sees “momentum” in the Legislature to pass such a proposal, because lawmakers this spring approved a ban on so-called sanctuary cities, a bill that had gone nowhere in the past.
Poised to use his political clout again to crack down on illegal immigration, the governor said he will fully back the proposal during the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. DeSantis will prioritize the bill as the presidential election kicks into full swing next year, with immigration expected to be a key issue.
The first indication of hurdles an E-Verify bill (SB 664) could face in the Senate will come with the number of committee assignments it gets. Galvano said it “will be properly referenced” to committees, a decision that is expected to be made next week, according to Katie Betta, a Senate spokeswoman.
Generally, the more committee assignments a bill receives, the harder it will be to pass.
Galvano acknowledged Tuesday the issue is “difficult” for the Republican-dominated Legislature, adding that he is “cautious about moving forward” with the Senate bill, which in its current form would apply to all Florida private employers — big and small.
In the past, proposals to mandate E-Verify, an electronic system managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have gone nowhere and faced fierce opposition from agriculture, tourism and construction interests, some of whom are big Republican donors.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s top elected Democrat, worries pushing for E-Verify will financially hurt small farmers because they do not have big operations to incorporate the federal electronic system.
“I am very concerned about the E-Verify bill and what that can potentially do to our smaller farmers in creating this additional paperwork and burden,” Fried said.
Under the Senate bill, employers would lose “all applicable licenses” if they do not register with the E-Verify system. Such licenses could include a franchise, charter, or “approval” to run a business in the state.
Last week, Lee told The News Service of Florida he is “open minded” about making changes to his bill, including exemptions for certain types of businesses.
“When it comes to small businesses, I think you are going to have a lot of empathy,” Lee, a former Senate president, said. “I am not sure what the rationale would be for (exempting) large businesses. It seems like they would be perfectly equipped to have this type of system.”
In the House, state Rep. Cord Byrd has said he intends to file the E-Verify bill. The Neptune Beach Republican championed the ban on sanctuary cities last session with Gruters.