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Immigration and pro-business bills get push from Jacksonville-area lawmakers

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach
News Service of Florida
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State Sen. Aaron Bean

Lawmakers from Northeast Florida are at the heart of two contentious issues that are speeding through the Florida Legislature: immigration reform and business protection.

Immigration

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican from Fernandina Beach, is sponsoring a bill that would crack down on transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants into the state. The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure Monday.

The proposal would bar state and local governments from contracting with such companies “if the carrier is willfully providing any service in furtherance of transporting an unauthorized alien into the State of Florida knowing that the unauthorized alien entered into or remains in the United States in violation of law.”

In addition, the bill would expand a 2019 law that sought to ban sanctuary cities. It would prevent local governments from blocking law-enforcement agencies from sharing information with the state about the immigration status of people in custody.

The bill drew sharp criticism from Democrats and immigrant-advocacy groups.

“This bill makes no sense,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said. “It is unconstitutional. It is wrong on a human level.”

Bean said the bill is intended, at least in part, to prevent undocumented immigrants from being flown into Florida in the “dead of night.” An investigation by WJCT News partner News4Jax showed that flights carrying migrants were flying into Jacksonville International Airport for months, usually at night.

“We think it’s time to say no to the federal government running this human smuggling operation,” Bean said.

Opponents said targeting transportation companies could prevent unaccompanied immigrant children from being brought into the state for care and shelter.

“Let’s not play politics with the lives of children,” said Ida Eskamani of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Business protection

The Florida Senate is slated Thursday to take up two controversial measures — sponsored by St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson — targeting city and county ordinances that affect businesses.

One of the bills (SB 620) would allow businesses to file lawsuits if local ordinances cause at least a 15% loss of profits. The other measure (SB 280) would require local governments to craft “economic impact” statements for certain ordinances, which could be paused by legal challenges.

The bills have drawn heavy debate in committees. Polsky pointed to the potential power lawmakers could provide to block local ordinances.

“A national corporation could veto an ordinance voted on by a duly elected official local body, in a majority vote, that had open public comment for an extended period of time,” Polsky said.

Hutson said his goal is to “resolve statewide preemption bills” while protecting businesses. Preemption bills, which have been highly controversial in recent years in the Legislature, restrict the authority of local governments.

“We need to make sure the businesses know how much they're getting affected,” Hutson said. “And, also, if a business is affected, that they'd be made whole.”