A controversial piece of legislation that seeks to ban communities that act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants passed its only legislative committee hearing on Tuesday, and could head to the House floor as soon as Session starts.
The proposal — a House leadership priority — would allow local officials who vote for “sanctuary city” policies, a police chief, sheriff or mayor to be fined or removed from office if they do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities.
HB 9, sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Metz, would have an “indeterminate” financial burden on local communities without a guarantee of reimbursement, according to the bill’s analysis. And despite unanimous opposition from audience members, the measure passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-7 vote, along party lines.
Following the vote, House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised the move.
Corcoran said that “any elected official that puts his or her hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the law and still supports sanctuary cities should be removed from office.”
At least 70 people traveled from South Florida to Tallahassee to speak against the policy, which they said would be “suppressive,” face constitutional challenges and contribute to “hate and violence” in their communities. That included immigrant advocates, undocumented immigrants, who said they had been victims of domestic violence, and DACA recipients
Metz, who is sponsoring the bill for a third consecutive year, said “discrimination is prohibited and racial profiling is not acceptable” under the bill.
Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican voted with an “enthusiastic yes” to pass the bill. He then addressed audience members.
“You’re lack of documents is not the issue, it is the fact that your first act upon entering the country was to break our laws,” Byrd said. “Everyday there are plenty of laws I disagree with but I don’t get to pick and choose which ones I follow.”
Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat, voted against the measure because she said the bill “will pit the community against law enforcement and law enforcement against the community.” She added it was “chilling” that campus police could soon question a student’s immigration status.
In Florida, there are no counties or cities with “sanctuary city” resolutions in place, according to Karen Woodall, the executive director for the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. Although Woodall clarified there are local communities who are not actively “singling out” undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities.
Metz believes the Trump administration has helped deter communities from passing “sanctuary city” policies and that he doesn’t think the community would “see a huge fiscal impact initially.”
Metz supports a robust legal immigration system — one he admits his family has taken advantage of for several generations — but added he wants to “adhere to the rule of law.”
Last year, an identical bill passed the Florida House, but went nowhere in the Senate. This year, the measure was only referred to a lone committee hearing, something that concerned Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat.
“I do think this is a controversial bill and having more than just this one (committee) stop would have been important,” Diamond said.
Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which has yet to clear two committee stops.