Both chambers are ready to consider legislation to further crack down on illegal immigration, a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis that lawmakers have fast-tracked as the Governor faces re-election.
The Senate bill was slated to head to the Senate Rules Committee. But in a rare move Wednesday, the Senate fast-tracked the bill (SB 1808) by scrubbing the need to send it through that panel, preparing it for the floor.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday evening, Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters his chamber did that “so we could get it here a lot quicker … because we want to get it done.”
DeSantis announced the proposal in December after criticizing President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, including bringing flights to Jacksonville to relocate people who have entered the country illegally. As tweaked in both chambers’ committee processes this week, the legislation would prevent transportation companies from doing business with Florida if they participate in programs transporting to the state people who are in the country illegally.
Also Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7, along party lines, to approve their version (HB 1355), similarly getting it ready for the House floor. The legislation would expand on a 2019 law that banned “sanctuary cities.”
Bill sponsor and Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder told committee members that is one step within Florida’s power to counter the Biden administration’s border policies.
“As we know right now, the southern border is in total chaos,” Snyder said.
With changes approved Wednesday, the bill would not impact transportation companies’ ability to move unaccompanied minors, people protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or those in another protected status. The bill labels immigrants not accepted as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unauthorized aliens.”
That matched changes Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean made to the Senate bill in the Appropriations Committee on Monday.
The Senate bill was slated to head to the Senate Rules Committee. But in a rare move Wednesday, the Senate fast-tracked the bill by scrubbing the need to send it through that panel, preparing it for the floor.
In September, a federal judge struck down part of the 2019 sanctuary cities law, but Republicans hope the new bill will be another shot at the measure as the ruling goes to an appeal. The new legislation would take effect immediately with DeSantis’ signature.
The bill also would require that counties strike agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program for local law enforcement officers to help with immigration enforcement. Many counties have already reached such agreements.
As it stands, Florida has no sanctuary cities, Tampa Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell argued.
“When is enough enough?” she asked. “There’s an analogy about beating a dead horse, which is not fair to horses, but this is a horse that is beaten and dead and buried, and we should just leave sleeping horses alone.”
Jacksonville has taken center stage as DeSantis has ratcheted his immigration agenda in opposition to the Biden administration. DeSantis’ shift to Jacksonville took place after law enforcement accused Yery Medina-Ulloa, an immigrant living in the country illegally who is 24 but identified himself as 17, of murdering a Jacksonville resident who was hosting Medina-Ulloa.
DeSantis and Bean, whose district includes part of Duval County, have said Florida is aware of 78 early morning flights to Jacksonville. Bean has called the flights a “midnight program of human smuggling” that’s part of Biden’s “unlawful pursuit of an open border policy.” DeSantis has called the trips “clandestine flights” that his administration only learned about because of leaks from federal officials.
DeSantis’ proposed budget includes $8 million to transport undocumented immigrants out of state. However, neither the House nor Senate budgets currently consider that provision.
With DeSantis’ recent focus on illegal immigration, Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried issued a prepared statement Wednesday in which she called the bill a “hate-fueled publicity stunt” from the Governor. She highlighted recent protests she said targeted legally employed farmworkers in Florida, and rebuked DeSantis for not addressing anti-immigrant sentiments.
“It is disgusting that the Governor is pouring fuel on the fire of such hatred, that he is jeopardizing our agriculture industry and state economy, that he is risking the safety of children, and that he is attacking religious organizations that support families in need,” Fried said. “But apparently nothing is too sacred to be used as political pawns by the Governor — not even children or archbishops.”
While the Legislature is pushing forward with the provision, the bill doesn’t consider all five of DeSantis’ major proposals for the “Biden border crisis.” The bill doesn’t contemplate strengthening E-Verify enforcement or requiring private entities that bring immigrants to Florida illegally to compensate the state for “the harmful costs that fall on the public.” DeSantis also asked for jails and courts to collect the immigration status of individuals at the time of their arrest and conviction, but the bill doesn’t go that far with its immigration status reporting provisions.