Tallahassee, FL - A bill that would allow many businesses to decide whether to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis has made a priority of cracking down on the hiring of undocumented immigrant workers, promising during his 2018 that he would sign a bill that would require all public and private employers to use the E-Verify system.
The Senate, however, gave final approval Thursday night to a bill (SB 664) that would mandate all government employers use E-Verify, while making it optional for many businesses. The House had earlier passed the bill.
“This is fake E-Verify. People expected mandatory E-Verify. This is the opposite --- optional E-Verify,” Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican who is a staunch supporter of a statewide mandate, told The News Service of Florida in reaction to the bill’s passage.
Private employers who decide not to use E-Verify would be required to keep a three-year record of the documents used by workers to complete an “I-9” form, which federal law already requires businesses to use.
Businesses that receive state-funded economic incentives, however, would be required to use E-Verify. Also, government contractors would be required to use it.
The bill would have its largest effect on government employers.
Under a current executive order, signed by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, all state executive agencies are required to use E-Verify and other public employers are “encouraged” to use the system.
But the bill heading to the governor would require all public employers --- such as local school districts, public universities and state agencies --- as well as their contractors, to use the federal program.
The bill passed without a provision DeSantis negotiated with the Senate. That provision would have given the Republican governor’s administration the power to randomly audit businesses to ensure they are not hiring undocumented workers.
House Republicans stripped the provision after Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said he had “tremendous concern” about giving an executive agency the authority to audit businesses at will, saying “something about that does not say American to me.”
The final version of the measure would give private and public employers until January 2021 to begin checking workers’ immigration status through either of the two verification methods.
Years of attempts to pass an E-Verify bill failed in the Republican-led Legislature, but the push for the verification plan this year got a political boost from the governor.
“This has been a long journey. I really appreciate the full-throated support of Gov. DeSantis. Without him I wouldn't be standing here with his bill on the desk,” Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who carried the bill, told senators Thursday.
The Senate voted 23-17 to approve the bill, with Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, the only Republican to vote with Democrats against the measure.
In the past, fierce opposition from the agriculture, construction and tourism industries have helped kill the bill.
Sabatini said the reason previously skeptical Republicans voted in favor of E-Verify this year had a lot to do with the watered-down proposal.
“The bill does little to nothing --- which is why the historic opponents to E-Verify are now suddenly neutral,” Sabatini said.