Tough Florida immigration bill may be softened
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Facing opposition from business groups, farmers and immigrant communities, a key House sponsor of an Arizona-style immigration bill signaled Thursday his willingness to back off some of the harsher provisions in his bill.
House Judiciary Chairman William Snyder, R-Stuart, said he would press forward with his bill (HB 237) but also said it could be different from the controversial Arizona law, which is being challenged in federal court.
Among the differences, Snyder said he would consider restricting background checks on possible illegal immigrants to those who were facing a criminal investigation, rather than allowing police to check anyone who was lawfully stopped, which is allowed under the Arizona law.
"I'm open to suggestions," Snyder said after a two-hour hearing on the Arizona law.
"If we're moderate and thoughtful we can produce good policy (so) that I think the business community and the immigrant advocate community will be satisfied."
Snyder's move reflects the reality that trying to pass an Arizona-style immigration bill will be difficult in the Florida Legislature, with Senate leaders saying they are not likely to back such a bill.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his support for a law like Arizona's, which was one of his campaign promises.
Scott said Thursday that he would support legislation allowing police to check someone's immigration status during a routine traffic stop.
"Just like I get asked for my ID if I ever get a traffic ticket, they should be asked if they're legal or not," Scott said.
But he said he would oppose any law that allowed "racial profiling."
While his committee didn't debate any specific bills on Thursday, Snyder said the House legislation would follow Arizona in that it would have a law enforcement component as well as a requirement that employers verify the immigration status of their employees.
"But the intricacies of the bill, the nuances of the bill, the point at which the immigration status can be inquired about, all those are subject to change and may not look anything like the Arizona law," Snyder said.
Business lobbyists have raised questions about using the federal E-Verify system to check the status of new employees.
As one of his first moves as governor, Scott directed the state agencies under his control to use the verification system.
Snyder said he was sensitive to the concerns raised by business groups that using E-Verify could create more paperwork and subject them to lawsuits if the information was inaccurate.
He said the House was considering a "safe harbor" provision for businesses that would shield them from penalties or civil lawsuits if the employers used the E-Verify information in "good faith" in hiring decisions.
However, several members of Snyder's committee were uneasy with the legislation.
Rep. Esteban Bovo, R-Hialeah, said the legislation would be detrimental for Florida businesses.
"Conditions that existed to create an Arizona-style law don't exist in the state of Florida," Bovo said. "I would hate to see us, for the sake of politics, run into something that ultimately could cause harm to our business community and really create an image that I know none of us in this building want to promote."
Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, who was born in Haiti, said the measure "creates the possibility and the fear that there will be racial and ethnic profiling."
He also said the bill could hurt the state's large hospitality industry as well as farmers who grow citrus and sugar cane and rely on immigrant workers.
"There are a lot of unintended consequences that I hope we remain cognizant of," Julien said.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he welcomed Snyder's "reasoned approach" to the issue, saying the bill was responding to the public sentiment that the existing immigration laws were being sidestepped.
"It's unsettling to see this rush of ignoring what the rules are — specifically for those folks who have played by the rules," said Baxley, who noted his wife was an immigrant who became a citizen.
"I think we're going to have a bill," Baxley said. "And I think it will be a very fair bill for everyone. But I think we do feel a need to do something for our people in area of upholding the rule of law and order."
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