Florida E-Verify Bill Passes Committee Severely Weakened
By David Jaroslav | FAIR Take | February 2020
E-Verify legislation aimed at ensuring a legal workforce is finally advancing in Florida, but was recently dramatically weakened even as it emerged from a key committee.
In October 2019, Senator Tom Lee (R-Thonotosassa) filed Senate Bill (SB) 664 to fulfill Governor Ron DeSantis (R)’s promise to require that all state employers, public and private, use E-Verify. Sen. Lee, former Florida Senate President and known moderate, was skeptical of 2019’s anti-sanctuary bill, SB 168. However, he believes that E-Verify legislation is needed to eliminate the economic incentives that serve as a magnet for illegal immigration. Joining Lee to cosponsor SB 664 was Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), who sponsored the state’s anti-sanctuary bill last year and is widely regarded as more conservative.
As originally introduced, SB 664 would have required every employer in the state to use E-Verify or face the prospect of having their business licenses suspended or revoked. After Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) came out against E-Verify in December, so-called “compromise” bills were filed that effectively only covered public employers and contractors, SB 1822 by Sen. Gruters and House Bill (HB) 1265 by Representative Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach).
SB 1822 and HB 1265 were the E-Verify vehicles expected to move. However, on February 11, Sen. Lee’s SB 664 was considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs), a Galvano ally. Simmons offered a “strike-all” amendment to the bill which drastically limited the bill by:
- carving out the agriculture industry;
- covering only employers with 150 employees or more;
- covering employers with between 10 and 150 employees, plus agriculture, only in the case of federal action authorizing work permits for illegal aliens;
- allowing covered employers to use other verification systems if they could be shown to be as reliable as E-Verify; and
- phasing in even these modest requirements over time so they wouldn’t take effect until 2022.
The committee adopted Sen. Simmons’ amendment, and then passed the amended bill on a party-line vote of 4-2. Sen. Simmons described the bill as “a work in progress,” while Sen. Lee responded to the committee’s changes by saying, “[w]ell, it’s a watered-down version of my bill, that’s for sure … But look, we’re just getting started here.”
SB 664 next goes to the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee, chaired by Sen. Gruters. This could present an opportunity to strengthen the E-Verify requirements again. Even if the bill remains in a weakened form, it will provide a first step in Florida’s efforts to mandate E-Verify. According to an October 2019 poll, 71 percent of Floridians support E-Verify for all businesses.
The end of the session is rapidly approaching. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 14.