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So-called ‘sanctuary cities’ ban passes House, ready for Ron DeSantis

“I’m trying hard to get this right, and I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

In a blow to immigrants, or a boon to security, depending on your view, Florida lawmakers passed a bill requiring local jurisdictions to assist federal authorities in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.

The House on Thursday passed the Senate’s “Rule of Law Adherence Act (SB 168) by a 68-45 margin, sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said he will sign it. Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, also the Florida GOP’s chair and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, pushed it in that chamber.

“I thank the Florida Legislature for presenting me with a bill that upholds the rule of law and addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida,” DeSantis tweeted Thursday night. “We are a stronger state when we protect our residents, foster safe communities and respect the work of law enforcement.”

In an official statement from the Governor’s office, DeSantis added that “local law enforcement agencies can and should work with the federal government to ensure that accountability and justice are one in our state.”     

The vote was in some ways an about-face for the GOP-controlled Legislature, which just a few years offered in-state tuition at public colleges and universities to undocumented students and allowed a non-citizen to become a lawyer.

Billed by some as a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” of which none officially exist in the state, the bill’s passage came after days of jousting over the measure’s mechanics.

As the disagreement ground on, sponsoring Rep. Cord Byrd set the stage for compromise with the Senate right as final debate started.

“I’m trying hard to get this right, and I think we’ve struck the right balance,” Byrd said, accepting the Senate version of the bill without striking major provisions, and setting the stage for passage.

Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, noted the bill exempts witnesses of crimes, and removes the penalties and complaint procedures for non-compliance.

The Senate removed a carveout for the Department of Children and Families—a sticking point for the House—that slipped into the legislation during the amendment process when the Senate passed it previously.

That preceded three hours of “structured debate” before an inevitable vote, with Democrats positing the bill was unnecessary and punitive, and Republicans hewing to “rule of law” constructions.

Democrats were charged in debate, with charges that this “manhunt” bill imposes unfunded mandates on localities.

“This fearmongering is scary,” asserted Rep. Susan Valdes.

Rep. Cindy Polo thanked her parents “for not following the law,” and said it was her “responsibility to pay back the country,” presumably with long autobiographical speeches destined not to affect the final vote.

Added Rep. Anika Omphroy: “My job is to go home to my community and prepare them for the law you are passing today.”

Rep. Evan Jenne did note that the current bill is “better” than the House version, but still “violates the Constitution,” including the 4th and 10th Amendments: “This fight isn’t over. It’s going to continue in the courts.”

Republicans defended the legislation: “We are a country of laws … without laws, as a society we fail to exist,” asserted Palatka’s Bobby Payne.

“The fiction that we hear is this bill criminalizes people based on lack of documentation,” he added.

In closing, Byrd credited the opponents of the bill as “friends” and noted that the Governor campaigned on the issue.

“We will soon send him a bill which he will sign,” he said.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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