The Senate’s version of E-Verify requirements for private businesses is ready for a floor vote.
The legislation (SB 664) advanced through the Rules Committee, its third and final stop, on Monday.
Sen. Tom Lee, the bill’s sponsor, said its important the bill be applied and that Florida employers check whether workers are authorized to hold jobs in the United States.
“Those who have knowledge of the fact they are not using the system or have employed someone who is not authorized to work in this country, there needs to be a mechanism to refer that company to the Department of Economic Opportunity so they can follow up on that unlawful activity,” the Thonotosassa Republican said.
Lee’s bill has pulled back from a strict requirement to use the criticized E-Verify database, and allows for an alternative system to be used with the authorization of the Department of Economic Opportunity.
But there remain significant differences between Lee’s legislation and a version that just last week made it through its first House committee vote. That bill, run by Rep. Cord Byrd, allows more leeway in use of the alternative I-9 process instead of the federal E-Verify database.
Those differences spotlight a small part of the division that the legislation has caused in Tallahassee. Republican leadership remains shaky on requiring businesses to use E-Verify, but the issue remains a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
And the requirement has the potential to significantly disrupt certain industries like agriculture and hospitality.
The Lee bill would not impact businesses with fewer than 50 employees. But he disposed of a carveout for agriculture added in the first Senate committee hearing on the legislation.
That has made employees in that field concerned about how Florida farmers can compete in an international market.
“The agricultural sector is currently experiencing staggering labor shortages, and increasing bureaucracy and big government in the hiring practices of farmers and other businesses will just exacerbate the problem,” said Paul DiMare, CEO of DiMare Fresh.
“The real-life effects of mandatory E-Verify are crops not being picked, food not being put on the table, and all Florida residents being burdened with higher food costs.”
Likewise, advocates for immigrants say threatening the livelihood of families contributing to the economy, undocumented or not, would be a bad move by the state.
Many critics, including IMPAC, the Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund, have said Florida should not get ahead of immigration policy, and nothing should be passed unless it’s part of federal comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said he has concerns the legislation will prompt complaints from individuals and posed a question.
“Is it the intent of this legislation to promote individuals to come forward?”
Lee said the system is simply an enforcement mechanism for existing law.
The Republican Party of Florida has taken up a resolution in favor of E-Verify with no exceptions for any specific industries.
And there were Republican voices more sympathetic than expected in the Rules Committee debate. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who has pushed back on other immigration enforcement issues, spoke up in favor of Lee’s legislation. She said the bill was less mean-spirited than similar proposals in the past.
The same goes for Sen. David Simmons, a Longwood Republican, who called the legislation a work in progress.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.