On Wednesday, after a structured debate with strict time limits, the Florida House approved by a 69-45 margin an amended form of SB 168.
The bill will end sanctuary jurisdictions in Florida, should the House and Senate ever agree on its conditions.
With pressure coming from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who promised supporters he would ban so-called sanctuary cities, Republican leaders in both chambers are scrambling to pass a plan before the session ends this week.
The “Rule of Law Adherence Act”, which already was approved by the House once before the Senate sent back a version that removed penalties for non-compliant jurisdictions (a deal breaker for the House), will “require state and local governments and law enforcement agencies … to support and cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.”
House sponsor Cord Byrd insists upon the penalties, but it may be too heavy a lift for the Senate in reconsideration.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, meanwhile, said after Session that the Senate must pass a version that is “consistent” with the House version, especially regarding fines for those flouting the law.
“Fines are important at making sure people adhere to the law and to their job,” Oliva said. “The most important part is that the bill stay consistent with what it’s trying to achieve.”
That comment is in reference to an amendment Miami Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez was able to get in the Senate bill last week to exclude employees of the Florida Department of Children and Families from fully complying with federal immigration law, such as sharing information about undocumented immigrants.
The bill applies to people in custody, with federal immigration authorities contacted, via 287(g) agreements, if a non-citizen is arrested.
Republicans, who hold an impregnable majority in the House, were emphatic in support of the legislation.
“No country in the world with an open border policy has ever survived,” asserted Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican in favor of the bill.
Rep. Chuck Clemons told a story of Fine and his blind father who were canvassing and “reported as suspicious.” Police showed up and checked them out, Clemons said.
“They were treated the same as everyone else in a similar circumstance,” Clemons enthused.
“When feelings trump reason, we’re only as free as the most sensitive among us allow,” Clemons added.
Despite Democratic “compelling feeling stories” that made Clemons “quiver-lipped,” “protecting the Constitution” held primacy for the Newberry Republican.
Democrats were more skeptical of the bill.
Rep. Anna Eskamani said the “Rule of Law Adherence Act” took the concept of “rule of law” into a “scary” direction.
Rep. Cindy Polo invoked the unrest in Venezuela, suggesting that supporters of the bill might not “stand with” Venezuelan refugees.
Rep. Amy Mercado thundered that “people who don’t have the luxury to ‘wait their turn’ will have their Constitutional liberties violated, as they are swept up for a few bad apples.”
Rep. Carlos G. Smith suggested that the policy would be a vehicle for “family separation.”
Rep. Evan Jenne predicted the bill would be back, again, despite the second passage: a measure of the gap between the Senate and the House.
Bill sponsor Cord Byrd agreed.
Ahead of the actual vote, the Florida Democrats had a quote ready about the bill having passed: reaffirming the sense of inevitability.
Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party stated:
“What a disgraceful 24 hours for the Florida GOP. Minutes ago, Republicans placed Florida at the top of the list of states that attempt to villainize immigrant communities, by sending SB168 to the Governor’s desk,” said Chair Terrie Rizzo.
“Our state was once a place that welcomed immigrants looking for a better future, but now it has become the Florida GOP deportation and family separation machine. Not only does SB 168 stoke anti-immigrant hatred,” Rizzo added, “it makes no exceptions for Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian regimes.”
“We are calling on Governor DeSantis to veto this bill and remind all Florida legislators that Florida’s immigrant community will hold them accountable for their anti-immigrant votes in November,” Rizzo said, though there are few if any elections in Nov. 2019.
DeSantis supports this legislation, and a veto is unlikely of whatever version ultimately emerges.
Senate President Bill Galvano noted that DeSantis “has been very engaged on that issue. Sanctuary city legislation is a big, big initiative for the administration, and so they’ve reached out.”
“The fact that the governor has weighed in has made a difference. But we’re still the Senate and we’ve made our own adjustments, and we’ll make adjustments again,” Galvano said.
The immigration issue has spurred one of the biggest fights of the 60-day session, and tensions have escalated as the House and Senate try to agree on a bill. Before the House vote on Wednesday, protesters in the House gallery began shouting and unfurled a large white banner printed with the slogan “Strong heart fight back.”
“This is the most hateful legislation ever,” Carlos Valnera shouted at lawmakers before the Capitol police and members of the House sergeant’s office dragged him out of the gallery and put him in handcuffs.
The commotion prompted police to close the doors to the public gallery and sent dozens of activists down to the governor’s office to protest.
It remains unclear whether DeSantis would prefer the House or Senate version of the bill.
The Legislative Session is expected to end Saturday. But lawmakers on Saturday likely will only deal with the state budget and budget-related bills, which would mean the sanctuary city issue would need to be resolved Friday.
Democrats are already brainstorming about procedural tactics they can use to stall passage of the bill.
“The bill is in trouble, and they know it,” said Smith, an Orlando Democrat who has vowed to derail the bill and hopes time can still work in favor of his plan.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.