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TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 10/15/19-Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, chairs a Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism meeting. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

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Joe Gruters files E-Verify compromise in the Senate

The legislation mirrors a bill filed by Cord Byrd in the House

A compromise proposal regarding potential requirements for businesses to check employees’ immigration status has been filed in the Florida Senate.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, submitted legislation requiring public employers to use the E-Verify system confirming eligibility on new hires. The bill (SB 1822) would also require businesses in Florida not using the system to keep documentation on new employees available for three years.

The Gruters bill appears to be the last filed before Friday’s deadline for consideration during the 2020 Legislative Session.

The Senate proposal mirrors a House bill (HB 1265) filed by state Rep. Cord Byrd. That legislation has emerged as an alternative to more contentious requirements on private sector employers to utilize the system.

Passing some version of E-Verify requirements is a stated priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I have been talking with Governors’ team and Cord Byrd quite a bit,” Gruters said.

Byrd and Gruters have worked on immigration legislation before. Last year, a ban on so-called sanctuary cities passed in the Senate for the first time, with Gruters as its prime sponsor. Byrd carried the bill in the House.

But E-Verify could be an even heavier lift.

Business leaders in agriculture, tourism and construction, reliably the biggest industries in the state, have bristled at the notion of E-Verify requirements. All have traditionally provided employment opportunities to immigrant populations.

The compromise bill would put the strictest rules on government employers.

That’s something that could be done by executive order, but Gruters said that’s not good enough.

“Like with any executive order, it’s easy come, easy go,” he said.

“This shouldn’t come and go on a whim.”

The bill also stands as an alternative to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican. That bill (SB 664) takes a harder line on requirements. It was also co-introduced by Gruters, who said he’s not giving up on the proposal.

“This gives the Florida Senate two different options and two different paths as to how we get something over the finish line to do what’s right for the workers of Florida,” Gruters said.

Gruters said he hopes to work closely with Lee on both bills.

The requirements will stop illegal immigration from tamping down employment wages for those living in Florida legally, Gruters said.

“The failures of Washington D.C., have forced Florida to deal with some of these issues,” he said. “This is one thing we can do at the state level to try and curb the free flow and unlimited flow across border of illegals coming here, and as a result suppressing real wages of Floridians trying to provide for the families.”

He also hopes to find bipartisan support for an E-Verify package. He noted many critics of his immigration bill last year accused Republicans of playing politics and addressing an imagined problem of sanctuary policies instead of tackling employer requirements, something that could hurt the party with major donors.

“When we were running the sanctuary cities ban bill, Democratic groups and some of these other groups would say, ‘Why are you not going for e-verify?’” Gruters said. “So I don’t see any problems with this moving forward, unless it was all rhetoric meant to stir the pot by the other side last year.”

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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