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State News

E-verify Plan Moves Forward In House

Capitol building at night with glowing lights of city.
Erich Martin

A bill that would require public employers to check the immigration status of new hires through E-verify got its first hearing in a House committee Thursday. The issue is a priority of Governor Ron DeSantis but some are questioning why it’s been allowed to languish in the House for so long.

Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva have concerns about the impact an e-verify requirement could have on Florida businesses. But Oliva said all of the governor’s priorities are getting serious consideration. He said there’s nothing unusual about the pace of the House’s E-verify bill.

“Everyone’s priorities right now seem to be in play, but they’re just kind of trudging along. I think we would all like to see the things we care about deeply moving at a faster rate. But I can tell you we’re all committed to being here until we can get the things we came here to do done. And those things are in play—the governor’s things are in play,” Oliva said.

Oliva says he thinks the House bill will help the governor achieve his goals without hampering businesses owners.

“We want to make sure Florida businesses can be helpful in what we’re trying to do as a state, but to not have an imposition over them that is so great that it now begins to interrupt their businesses. They’ve operated in the regulatory environment that they’re in now and anytime that you’re going to make a strong change to something like that you have to make sure you do it in a way that can properly be absorbed while still accomplishing what I think the governor has said many times he wants to do, which is make sure the people who are working here are working here legally,” Oliva said.

And the House measure could be a good compromise, according to Galvano. He talked with reporters about the measure earlier this month.

“At the heart of my caution is the additional burden on private entities," Galvano said. "I have not read the bill, but I understand it’s more of a move to try limit to government entities and things of that nature. It may be something that could help us find a middle ground."

Rep.Cord Byrd (R-Neptune Beach) is sponsoring the House measure. He says it's needed to help protect Florida citizens.

“Floridians shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap, illegal foreign labor," Byrd said. "Assuring a legal workforce through this verification system promotes fair competition, protects taxpayers, places upward pressure on the wages of Floridians and promotes the rule of law.”

The measure would require public employers, like state agencies and local governments, and their contractors to check the status of new workers using the federal government’s E-verify database. Private businesses would be exempt from the requirement, unless they receive money from the state through economic incentive programs under contracts signed after the bill goes into effect. They would still have to check an new employee's status using I-9 forms under a process that’s currently part of federal law.

Some Democrats are decrying the plan. Rep. Al Jacquet says he has concerns with what he sees as politically motived legislation.

“Legislation that may be politically postured has real consequences on real lives and real dollars. That affects our economy," Jacquet said.

Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate has been moving forward. It’s been amended to provide a phase in and exemptions for some private employers. It also allows private employers to use a verification system other than e-verify, if the employer swears under penalty of perjury the systems are “substantially equivalent.” It’s a change that frustrated the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon).

This essentially is taking us back to the honor system, which I’m not terribly happy with, but in the spirit of compromise and in an effort to keep this bill moving and get us to a place where we can have some true serious negotiations on a landing spot, I’ve agreed to accept this amendment,” Lee said.

Lee later told reporters if the bill passes as is, he would ask the governor to veto the measure. It’s scheduled for a final committee discussion Monday.