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Florida E-Verify bill advances with 'compromise' exempting ag industry, small businesses

'I think we’re in a pretty good place'
Posted at 9:40 PM, Feb 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 21:43:11-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A crackdown on the hiring of undocumented immigrants is getting closer.

Florida lawmakers, on Tuesday evening, pushed a bill requiring employers to use the e-verify system to check the immigration status of new hires.

Senate Bill 664 cleared its first committee hurdle with a split vote but not without changes. Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. David Simmons (R-Longwood), got the approval of a major amendment essentially rewriting the legislation. Simmons calling it “something between the two extremes that exist.”

The change spreads out deployment over two years. It allows employers to use approved systems similar to E-Verify. Plus — it exempts small businesses and the ag industry.

Sponsor Sen. Tom Lee called the new version "a compromise" as the measure faces an uncertain GOP majority— despite the governor’s backing. Many have worried the original language would have led to short-term job shortages, potentially costing employers billions.

“I think we’re in a pretty good place,” Lee said. “I think this bill will flush out a lot of the options we have going forward on how to strengthen the bill. As people learn more about it, I think this is going to pass.”

Democrats who voted against the bill tried tacking on additional amendments to exempt other industries like health care or tourism. All failed to get approval.

Following the committee’s decision, Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) urged her colleagues to try a different method of immigration reform.

“We should not capture people in a flawed system,” Gibson said. “We could take our time.”

The legislation now faces two additional committees before reaching the Senate floor. It would also need approval from the House before reaching the governor.

If DeSantis signs the bill, Florida would join a shortlist of states requiring all or most businesses to use E-Verify. Eight do currently, including Georgia and Alabama.