High-level negotiations underway on E-Verify compromise
Is ground breaking on an E-Verify deal?

Tom Lee, Cord Byrd uncertain how close chambers are to an agreement.

Negotiations over E-Verify requirements have moved to the highest levels in the House and Senate. And now both chambers have put legislation on Special Order Calendars for this week.

Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Cord Byrd, the main sponsors for the bills, have thus far run significantly different bills through each chamber.

They remain confident legislation can make it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk that’s worthy of a signature.

“I know that things are moving in the right direction,” Lee said, “but I haven’t seen any white puffs of smoke yet.”

Lee’s bill (SB 664) advanced through the Senate Rules Committee on Monday through a party line vote. The same day, Byrd’s legislation (HB 1265) cleared the House State Affairs Committee.

That means both are ready for a floor vote. The Senate has placed Lee’s bill on the Special Order Calendar for Thursday, and Byrd’s bill appears on Special Order in the House on Friday.

But substantial differences remain in the bills as passed.

Both put in place mandatory requirements for Florida businesses to verify employment eligibility for workers.

Byrd’s bill has allowed many businesses to use I-9 forms for that instead of the federal E-Verify practice. He said he has modeled his bill on Arizona statutes already debated in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and which focuses on replicating federal requirements enforced at the state level.

Lee’s bill puts significant authority and discretion with the Department of Economic Opportunity. And while the bill allows for alternative verification approved by the state, Lee said the bill doesn’t put businesses on an honor system.

He characterized his bill as the more “conservative,” but he also suggested the requirements in his version were something DeSantis wants to see in statute.

“Those provisions are necessary for the Governor so we don’t have this exit ramp for E-Verify you can drive  a truck through,” Lee said.

Notably, it allows the DEO to investigate accusations of businesses knowingly employing ineligible workers.

Byrd, for his part, said he believes both bills would pass legal muster. But he doesn’t know which legislation may emerge as the foundation of a deal.

“I wish I knew,” the Neptune Beach Republican said. “I’m assuming there are negotiations taking place.”

Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate President, knows there are discussions being had.

“But I’m not aware of anything concrete,” he said.

Moving talks to Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Josè Oliva, though, notably means negotiations will take place among lawmakers definitively uncomfortable with E-Verify requirements.

Galvano said ahead of Session he didn’t feel confident support existed in the Senate for E-Verify. “A case will have to be made,” he told reporters in October.

On Tuesday, he said he’s largely left Lee to negotiate the legislation. A significant amendment passed in the Rules Committee, for example, was crafted by Lee in communication with the Governor’s Office. But Galvano made clear the legislation is now something where an appetite exists in the Senate.

“I in fact call it Lee-Verify,” Galvano said. “It was negotiated with the Plaza Level and I also had weighed in so we were on the same page.”

Oliva has said he wants a “clean” E-Verify bill if one passes at all.

“If in fact Florida businesses are made to be a certain policing arm for the government, then yes it should be done equally,” he said last month.

But as chamber leadership wrangles over details, business groups in opposition are increasing rhetoric and amplifying concerns.

The American Business Immigration Coalition and IMPAC Fund remain opposed to any mandatory E-Verify requirements proposed.

And with budget concerns now looming over coronavirus testing, now is not the time to worry about E-Verify, many said.

“We urge our elected officials to work across party lines to prioritize the health and well-being of all Floridians rather than foster increased fear among immigrant workers that may dissuade them from seeking the care they need,” reads a joint statement released by the groups’ co-chairs on Tuesday.

The organization leaders also stressed overall concerns about E-Verify requirements being put in place at a time of record unemployment.

“Contrary to what the proponents may say, an E-Verify mandate not only harms businesses and our economy, but actually decreases our public safety and puts the well-being of all Floridians at risk,” said Mike Fernández, Chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, on behalf of ABIC and IMPAC Fund.

He was particularly critical of the framework in Lee’s bill.

“By making the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity carry out federal immigration enforcement and further pushing immigrant families into the shadows due to fear of deportation, we decrease community collaboration and exacerbate the potential harm caused by human trafficking violations and the coronavirus outbreak in our state,” he said.

“Fixes to our broken immigration system can only happen through Congress at the federal level, not through piecemeal state policies.”

Jacob Ogles

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 [email protected]


  • Pghboy

    March 4, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    If you compromise at all do what Pa did. Make it for all construction work both public and private . If you don’t comply and sign up for e verify you will lose your business license. If they are not registered then the state can audit the books. At that point start with large fines. Next session expand the program because it will be a success. Construction used to be a middle class job. The Gov is just trying to bring back jobs for those who are here legally. Does not sound extreme to me.

  • Robert Allen Windham

    March 5, 2020 at 11:11 am

    I want to state up front that the following comments are from me alone – I am representing myself. In opposition to the E-verify proposal before the last Constitution Revision Commission the American Business Immigrant Coalition (ABIC) and IMPAC Fund stated that there was a 12% E-verify error rate. Here is what Brian Burgess wrote in an online article on April 12, 2018 in The Capitolist titled: Busted: Business Group Led By Mike Fernandez Pushed Bogus Data to Fight Tougher CRC Immigration Proposal: “But the Fernandez led group of 70 business leaders, who oppose E-verify to reign in the illegal hiring of illegal aliens in Florida quoted from a report that intentionally used bogus data. Virtually every statistic in the group’s economic doomsday report was computed by pulling a single data point from a decade-old audit that actually concluded the exact opposite of what the business leaders said would happen.
    The American Business Immigration Coalition admitted later in the day that it cherry-picked an inflated 12 percent error rate that was reported by a single company in 2007, instead of using the latest comprehensive federal data from hundreds of thousands of companies across the nation, which is easily obtained and was updated as recently as 2018 .”
    Burges goes on to write: “Fernandez and DiMare used the report to describe an economic “Armageddon” of statistics based entirely on the bogus 12 percent error number, including false claims that mandatory E-Verify could:
    Cost Florida employers as much as $4.7 billion dollars trying replace lost workers; result in 4.6 million hours of lost work in Florida alone; cause 1.1 million legal Florida workers to face job delays or lost work
    All of those figures were computed using the bogus “12 percent” error rate, and in most cases, are directly contradicted by the very reports that the group later cited in their own report’s footnotes that were ostensibly included to bolster its own credibility. For example, the report cites a report from the CATO institute that 1,173,360 legal Florida workers could lose their jobs or miss work because of errors. But the CATO report never actually makes that claim.”
    Burgess goes on in his article to state: “In short, the very audit report that Mike Fernandez, Paul DiMare and the American Business Immigration Coalition used to underpin their bogus claims actually concluded exactly the opposite: that E-Verify works and is extremely accurate.” So we have already seen that ABIC and IMPAC Fund are willing to use fraudulent data in their opposition to E- verify. Why should we believe anything they say now about E-verify?
    Spokesman for ABIC and IMPAC Fund said in this Ogle article that E-verify would increase fear in the immigrant community. They cited no empirical data to support this position. And if an immigrant is here legally why would they fear E-verify? The truth is that the illegal alien community might very well fear E-verify. But the truth of the matter is that if one comes here illegally and stays here illegally and has fear of immigration laws it is a situation they they have brought on themselves.
    Billionaire Mike Fernandez speaking for ABIC and IMPAC Fund said that E-verify would decrease public safety BUT the opposite is true. Using data from the GAO and the Uniform Crime Reporting Program we can establish that on average illegal aliens in Florida MURDER 428 people every year! (www.lexingtonprosecutor.com/a-govt-report-govt-accountability-officegao reports-30-of-murder-convictions-in-california-texas-arizona-florida new-york-are-committed-by-illegal-aliens-illegal-alien-crime-accountsfor-30/)((http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/flcrime.htm) The statistic in # This DOES NOT INCLUDE the many other people killed on the roads of Florida by illegal alien drivers. Unfortunately there is no database that identifies whether a driver who has killed someone on the roads of Florida is illegal or not – sometimes that information is available from the news stories regarding a specific incidence where an illegal alien driver kills someone in Florida. But it happens – most recently an illegal alien unlicensed and unqualified to drive a forklift killed a Florida man in Dec. 2019 in Ft. Lauderdale – the illegal alien driver had been cited on 3 previous occasions for driving without a license. Or the pregnant woman whose unborn baby was killed by an illegal alien driver in Polk County, Florida in Feb. 2019. Or the 13 year old girl killed by an illegal alien driver in April, 2019 also in Polk County, Florida. These are just 3 of the many stories I could share with you but will not in order to keep this letter as short as possible. You can easily Google the news stories about these 3 killings on our roads by illegal alien drivers. In 2014 according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission 55 out of every 100,000 illegal immigrants in Florida were in jail or prison. Using the number of 1,000,000 illegals currently in Florida that means if we apply the U.S. Sentencing Commission data of 55 illegals of every 100,000 illegals are in jail or prison in Florida we get 550 convictions per year for major crimes, including murder and rape, committed by illegals. (http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/crime/329589-the-truth-about-crimeillegal-immigrants-and-sanctuary-cities) A study released by Federation for American Immigration Reform in 2019 used incarceration data from the Federal government’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program indicates that illegal aliens in Florida commit crimes [includes all categories of crime not just selected categories of crimes] at a rate 60% higher than U.S. citizens and legal residents. (https://fairus.org/sites/default/files/2019-01/SCAAP-Data-Illegal-Aliens-Have-Higher-Crime-Rate_0.pdf) (see graph and chart on page 6 of the report) Based on the information I have just provided any reasonable minded person would see clearly that public safety would be significantly improved if illegal aliens could be stopped from coming to Florida and cause those already here over time to leave Florida which would happen IF we had mandatory E-verify for all Florida employers.
    So as I have demonstrated the claims by American Business Immigrant Coalition and IMPAC Fund and Mike Fernandez simply do not hold up when confronted with actual data, statistics and facts.

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