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E-Verify Passes Senate With House Facelifts, Heads To Governor's Desk

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Steve Cannon
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AP Photo

Controversial legislation mandating public employers use E-Verify, with a carve-out for private employers to use other means of verifying employee’s citizenship status, has passed the Florida legislature. After numerous changes, the measure is a far cry from what some GOP backers wanted.

Senator Tom Lee’s legislation crossed the finish line with some of the provisions the Senate passed before the House made changes. For instance, public employers in the state would still have to use E-Verify. Private employers that don’t use the E-Verify or federal I-9 employment verification form would face penalties.

“Private employers found in non-compliance with the bill’s employment verification requirements will be subject to requests for a compliance affidavit from the Department of Economic Opportunity,” Lee explained. “Private employers who do not respond to DEO’s request for a compliance affidavit within 30 days of the request will have their license suspended.”

If private employers violate the rule more than three times those licenses could be revoked permanently.

The House stripped out some provisions that got pushback from Senate Democrats – namely, one that would have compelled the Department of Economic Opportunity to create a complaint process, where the agency would receive and look into complaints of employers hiring undocumented workers.

The House also nixed a provision that would have empowered DEO to conduct random audits of private businesses – something House Speaker Jose Oliva criticized heading into the final week of the regularly-scheduled session.

“In particular, empowering executive agencies to have police powers, and do random checks is something that is of tremendous concern,” Oliva told reporters.

Under the version that passed, law enforcement entities can request employee records from private employers.

Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, who’s been critical of the proposal, asked for clarification on what responsibilities will fall on businesses:

“Could you describe the record-keeping requirements that we’re imposing on employers? With respect to I-9 and all that process, there are federal requirements in record-keeping –what are we adding on top of that as a matter of state law, now?”

Lee answered his colleague, saying the bill follows Tennessee’s lead.

“We are following a model that was put in place when Tennessee passed E-Verify. And one of the things they required, one of the options they gave employers, was to retain the I-9 verification documents, the documents provide to the employer under the I-9 process, for at least three years, or one year after the termination of the employee,” Lee said.

Lee went on to describe what law enforcement entities can access those documents.

“Parties authorized under this bill, Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the attorney general, state attorney, or statewide prosecutor,” Lee said. “It says, ‘for the purposes of enforcement of this section, the following persons or entities may request, and a private employer must provide, copies of any documentation relied upon by the private employer for the verification of a person’s employment eligibility.’”

Lee told his Senate colleagues it’s ‘hard to argue’ with the House’s overhaul on that front.

“People with investigatory experience are a lot better situated to look into these situations as compared to the Department of Economic Opportunity – that was the House’s perspective on this,” Lee said. “And, it’s hard to argue with that.”

Even though Lee had previously decried the watering down of his bill through its various amendments, he thanked Gov. Ron DeSantis for his “full-throated endorsement” of the measure. Getting E-Verify legislation passed was apriority of DeSantis going into the 2020 session. If signed by the governor, the legislation won’t go into effect until January.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.