Florida Legislature Passes Watered-Down E-Verify Bill
By David Jaroslav | FAIR Take | March 2020
The Florida Legislature passed a dramatically scaled-back version of E-Verify legislation as it wrapped up its legislative session. While far from ideal, it is an improvement over the status quo and it represents the first statewide law on employment verification for the Sunshine State after the idea was first proposed more than ten years ago.
The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 664, was sponsored by Senator Tom Lee (R-Thonotosassa), a former Florida Senate President. A known moderate, Sen. Lee had been skeptical of Florida’s 2019 anti-sanctuary bill, SB 168, but strongly supported E-Verify to eliminate the jobs magnet for illegal immigration.
Over the course of two months of the session, SB 664 and its House companion, House Bill (HB) 1265, sponsored by Representative Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach), went through five committee meetings and extensive changes. Carve-outs for the agriculture industry and for employers with under 50 employees were fortunately removed.
The Senate language was created with significant input from Governor Ron DeSantis (R). However, the version that passed both chambers was the House version which was significantly weaker. The E-Verify bill that passed will:
- require all public employers (state, county, municipal and special districts) to use E-Verify;
- require all public contractors to use E-Verify or lose their contracts;
- require all recipients of state economic development incentives to use E-Verify or lose their incentive funding;
- require private employers to either use E-Verify to ensure the employment authorization of their new hires, or keep at least three years worth of I-9 forms with all of the documents provided by their employees to verify them;
- require private employers to make all records and documents related to employment verification available on request to the Florida Attorney General (AG), Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Office of Statewide Prosecution (OSP) and their local state attorney’s office; and
- create a process for suspending and revoking the business licenses of private employers that fail to comply; and
- take effect January 1, 2021, giving employers time to implement it.
The Senate's language would also have authorized the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to conduct random audits of employers for compliance. But the House, usually the more conservative chamber, insisted on removing this provision. House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Miami Lakes) said he had “tremendous concern” about giving an executive agency the authority to audit businesses at will, saying “something about that does not say American to me.”
Strong supporters of E-Verify voted for the bill but expressed disappointment, calling it “E-Verify lite" and worse. Representative Anthony Sabatini (R-Howey-in-the-Hills) said “[p]eople expected mandatory E-Verify. This is the opposite --- optional E-Verify.”
Senator Lee admitted it wasn’t everything that could be hoped for, “[b]ut the fact that the employers know that we now have a system in the state of Florida where law enforcement can check your records to see that you’re complying with our requirements under state law to verify the authenticity of employees to work in the United States, I think it’s going to create a lot more compliance.”
The bill now goes to Gov. DeSantis. Despite it falling short of his campaign promise to require E-Verify of all employers, he is expected to sign it. Florida has moved the ball forward on E-Verify, but still has plenty of room for improvements in the future.