(NSF) — As the legislative session wanes, competing proposals that would require employers to check whether new hires are legally eligible to work in the United States are heading to the House and Senate floors.
Both measures would force all public employers — such as state agencies and local school districts — to use E-Verify, a federal immigration program that Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the Legislature to implement for all employers.
But the bills differ in crucial details that would determine which businesses are exempt from the mandate. The legislative session is scheduled to end March 13.
“I think we will deliver a bill that (DeSantis) can sign. But, once again, we still have two weeks left, this is a bill that is still working through the process,” House sponsor Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, told reporters after the House State Affairs Committee approved his measure (HB 1265) on Monday.
The House proposal would require public employers and private companies that benefit from taxpayer-funded economic incentives to use E-Verify. Byrd said he thinks businesses that benefit from tax breaks should be held to a “higher standard.”
The bill would give other private employers the option of using E-Verify or getting copies of job applicants’ documents when filling out what is known as a form I-9, which is used by the federal government to verify the identity and employment eligibility of workers.
The Senate bill (SB 664) does not tie economic incentives to the E-Verify mandate and would require businesses with at least 50 employees to use the federal database or a “substantially equivalent” method, such as getting form I-9s.
As lawmakers try to reach agreement, Byrd told the News Service of Florida that he expects those differences to be at the heart of negotiations on the issue.
Byrd said expects the House economic-incentive provision to be revisited during negotiations. However, he does not want to take up the Senate’s carve-out for businesses with less than 50 employees.
“I would hope that the Senate would reconsider that proposal,” he said.
Senators had briefly considered a carve-out for the state’s powerful agriculture industry, a move that House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, pushed back against.
“I am thankful that there are no exemptions in this (House) bill and that it is not dividing employers based on size and it is not excluding any groups,” Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, said.
Before the House panel backed its proposal, Rep. Ardian Zika, a Land O’ Lakes Republican born in the former Yugoslavia, urged his colleagues to always keep in mind the “human element when it comes to immigration policy.”
“Immigrants have been a great wealth to this nation and continue to be,” Zika said. “We need to remember the human aspect as we continue to push this policy.”
That sentiment was echoed by members of the Senate Rules Committee, which approved the Senate bil on Monday.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, supported the Senate measure after saying they had been reluctant to back other immigration proposals in the past.
They both cited the 2010 legislative session, when lawmakers considered Arizona-type bills to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants into Florida. Back then, Arizona required police officers to demand the papers of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Flores said Monday she was comfortable voting for the Senate’s E-Verify bill because it was not “discriminatory in nature.”
But Democratic senators said Monday they were concerned the bill could lead to discrimination because it would allow people to file complaints with the Department of Economic Opportunity if they believe an employer is hiring undocumented workers.
The bill says complaints cannot be based on “race, color, or national origin.” But Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, wondered what other criteria a person could use to suspect a person is undocumented. Sen. Tom Lee, the sponsor of the bill, did not have an exact answer.
“My guess is that the department is going to have to take whatever info is provided and determine if it is sufficient,” the Thonotosassa Republican told Gibson.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, also worried the bill is creating a process that would force the Department of Economic Opportunity to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about business disputes.
Under the Senate bill, the Department of Economic Opportunity would not be allowed to “independently make a final determination as to whether an employee is an unauthorized alien” if it receives a complaint. The department, which is part of DeSantis’ administration, would need to contact ICE to verify the immigration status of the employee.
“We are basically putting DEO on the position of being ICE, but without the discretion,” Rodriguez said.
Source: Ana Ceballos, News Service of Florida