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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could get 'sanctuary' enforcement role

Republican lawmakers seek to ban so-called sanctuary cities

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Republican lawmakers seek to ban so-called sanctuary cities, Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to make sure legislation would give him power to take action against officials who do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

A sanctuary-city bill is one of the governor’s top priorities during this year’s legislative session. The Senate is expected Thursday to take up its version of a sanctuary-city bill (SB 168) and consider an amendment that says the governor “may initiate judicial proceedings in the name of the state” against local or state officials who do not cooperate with immigration laws.

“The governor is supportive of this measure which reiterated his constitutional authority to remove an executive or administrative state, county or municipal” officer for violating state law, Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, told The News Service of Florida.

After hours of debate about issues involving undocumented immigrants and the state’s role in enforcing immigration laws, the House on Wednesday passed a bill (HB 527) that includes the language about the governor’s role.

Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he wants to align the House and Senate bills, while adding “more teeth” to the enforcement of his measure. Without the amendment, the bill would only give the attorney general authority to bring civil actions against officials who back sanctuary-city policies.

Gruters, who doubles as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, has made the sanctuary-city issue his top priority this legislative session. The freshman senator said it is important to ensure law enforcement agencies comply with federal immigration laws, a sentiment that is popular among the Republican base in the state.

Senate Democrats, however, were poised to put up a fight Thursday with a series of amendments that deal with issues such as requiring federal immigration officials to provide judicial warrants when asking local law enforcement agencies to hold undocumented immigrants.

Gruters has successfully navigated the bill through committees, after years of the Senate not advancing similar measures.

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he plans to pursue a "friendly" amendment that would add protections for undocumented immigrants who are crime victims or witnesses.

Diaz said he supports the Senate bill even though he has been targeted by Spanish-language ads urging him to vote against it.

If the Senate proposal moves forward this week, it is likely that legislation barring sanctuary-city policies will pass the Legislature. But the House and Senate will still need to iron out differences in their proposals, particularly on a tougher stance taken by the House on enforcement.