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Tom Lee moves to dump agriculture carve-out from E-Verify bill

An amendment filed before a second committee stop undoes changes made in Judiciary.

Sen. Tom Lee last week agreed to a carve-out for agriculture employers in his E-Verify legislation.

A new amendment suggests he was just kidding.

The Thonotosassa Republican on Monday filed a new amendment eliminating any exemptions for agriculture employers. The change largely removes shifts in language that carried the controversial bill (SB 664) through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It does leave intact a change from original language that would exempt companies with fewer than 150 employees.

Sen. David Simmons, Judiciary Committee chair, had worked with Lee on a strike-all amendment before the legislation was heard at its first stop. A number of agriculture leaders at the time voiced support for that change.

But should the amendment to the bill pass, the legislation will once again require most private employers statewide to check on workers’ employment status.

That’s significant considering the agriculture industry has raised the most skepticism about the legislation, including questioning the accuracy of the federal E-Verify system.

But the amendment may signal a belief there’s more willingness for stronger requirements at the committee’s next stop.

The bill now heads to the Commerce and Tourism Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Joe Gruters, who co-introduced the bill with Lee. That committee hears the legislation at a 10 a.m. meeting on Tuesday.

Gruters had also filed a compromise bill that put E-Verify requirements only on public employers. But the Sarasota Republican told Florida Politics the second bill is “dead” in the Senate, and Lee’s bill will be the vehicle for any legislation approved in the Senate.

Also chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Gruters pushed for a state party resolution favoring a no-exemptions E-Verify bill to pass this year.

But Lee’s amendment immediately grabbed the attention of business groups already wary of employer requirements.

The American Business Immigration Coalition penned a letter earlier this session that said: “Florida needs immigrants to move our economy forward.” The group voiced strong opposition to removing exemptions for agriculture employers, and maintain skepticism about the legislation overall.

The Coalition also said President Donald Trump has eased off a desire for federal E-Verify requirements, dropping language about “mandatory nationwide use” of the federal database from his recent budget proposal, as reported by the Washington Times.

At the same time, House Speaker Josè Oliva said last week he wants a clean E-Verify bill passed and he doesn’t want exemptions that treat whole sets of employers different from others. But he also has questioned whether the state should turn private businesses into a “policing arm for the government.”

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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