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E-Verify proposals advance to Florida House, Senate floors

E-Verify bill moves forward in House and Senate
E-Verify bill moves forward in House and Senate

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers advanced dueling proposals to require employers to check the eligibility of their employers to work in the United States, a key policy priority being pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis who wants all employers in his state to use a federal database known as E-Verify.

With immigration continuing to cleave the country, Republicans who take a hard line against illegal immigration, such as the governor, have clashed with some of their usual business allies — particularly the tourism, construction and agriculture industries — who have opposed E-Verify proposals as too onerous.

Immigration has been a priority of the Republican governor, who is urging his fellow Republicans in the Legislature, who control both chambers both the House and Senate, to adopt a sweeping measure that would require all employers — both public and private — to use the E-Verify system to check on the legal status of workers.

“I know this is a difficult issue for the Senate. It conjures up issues that divide us on immigration, and I'm sorry for that,” said the Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican who is sponsoring the Senate E-Verify proposal.

“I don't think it's reasonable for Florida to sit on the sidelines to wait for the federal government to act,” Lee said.

While Republican lawmakers last year joined DeSantis in his freshman year as governor in advancing a ban against so-called sanctuary cities to prevent local governments from giving safe harbor to people who are in the country illegally. But the Legislature declined then to approve an E-Verify bill, partly because key lawmakers — including some top Republicans — expressed concern that the proposal would be a burden to business.

Critics of E-Verify say the system remains riddled with outdated and inaccurate data.

“E-Verify is not ready for prime time,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat. The federal government has not made the matter a priority, he said, so “why would we in the state of Florida.”

The governor may be poised to score a victory if his allies in the Legislature can reach a consensus in the dwindling days of this year's legislative session, which is scheduled to end next week.

As it stands, both chambers agree on requiring government agencies — including state, counties, cities and other public entities — to use the E-Verify system, an electronic portal operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That requirement would also apply to private contractors who do work for those public agencies.

The Senate version would require private employers with at least 50 employers to require to use an online database to verify whether a new hire is eligible to work in the United States. Smaller companies would have an option to use an alternative method sanctioned by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

The House version would be less stringent on private employers in using E-Verify, allowing private companies to require new employees to show a list of federally acceptable documents to prove their eligibility to work in the country.