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Florida E-Verify Headed for Florida Senate/House Votes: Could Affect Food Prices

Observer Graphic | Photo: Hans Braxmeier

TALLAHASSEE, FL – House and Senate E-Verify bills with significant differences are bound for floor votes – and off-the-record conferencing – after both secured their final public hearing approvals Monday.

Senate Bill 664 advanced through the Senate Rules Committee’s 62-bill agenda Monday, and House Bill 1265, only formally introduced last week, was approved by a 16-7 tally in the House State Affairs Committee.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, allows for more flexibility in the use of the alternative I-9 process instead of the federal E-Verify database.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees but does not include the “agricultural carveout” previously added as an amendment.

Both measures are opposed by state agricultural and hospitality industry interests, as well as immigrant advocacy organizations, including many church groups.

Agricultural interests maintain the measure would make it difficult to compete with foreign producers, particularly Mexico, after the adoption of the Trump Administration’s United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade pact that has been roundly criticized by Florida growers.

“The agricultural sector is currently experiencing staggering labor shortages, and increasing bureaucracy and big government in the hiring practices of farmers and other businesses will just exacerbate the problem,” said Paul DiMare, CEO of DiMare Fresh, the nation’s largest tomato grower. “The real-life effects of mandatory E-Verify are crops not being picked, food not being put on the table, and all Florida residents being burdened with higher food costs.”

The Immigration Partnership & Coalition (IMPAC) Fund and other interests maintain the state should not act unilaterally until Congress adopts comprehensive federal immigration reform.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, raised concerns the bill would “promote individuals to come forward” with complaints about rivals and competing businesses.

Lee, acknowledging the bill was not what he envisioned when he first introduced it, which would have mandated E-Verify for all employers in the state, said it does at least include a state enforcement mechanism through the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

“Those who have knowledge of the fact they are not using the system or have employed someone who is not authorized to work in this country, there needs to be a mechanism to refer that company to the DEO so they can follow up on that unlawful activity,” Lee said.

Byrd made a similar case before the House State Affairs Committee, when he questioned why a new employment-verification law would be enforced when current federal laws aren’t.

“The state would enforce it,” he said. “We are not requiring employers to be the ‘document police’ if they are acting in good faith. This just gives the state the right to enforce its own laws.”

Florida State University student Natalie Lopez, a “Dreamer,” told the panel her parents “work seven days a week, 10 hours a day” and want nothing more than “federal immigration laws be fixed.”

Kiyan Michael, whose son, Brandon, was struck and killed in 2007 by a driver who was a “twice-deported” undocumented immigrant, said E-Verify would make roads and communities safer.

Michael said the driver did not have a driver’s license or insurance. She “wanted to hold the company (he worked for) accountable for knowingly employing the undocumented” but was told “we don’t have a right to know what company he worked for.”

The driver eventually was sentenced to two years in prison, ordered to pay restitution, and deported again.

“I’m sure he’s back” in the U.S., she said. “If E-Verify had been employed, I believe Brandon would be alive today.”

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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