NE Fla. Senator's Bill Would Require Businesses To Check Employees’ Immigration Status

Florida businesses would have to use a federal database to verify the immigration status of new employees, under proposals filed in the House and Senate for the 2019 legislative session.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, filed SB 164 on Tuesday after Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, filed HB 89 last week.

The bills would require private and public employers, including state contractors, to enroll in E-Verify, an electronic federal database within the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.

The E-Verify issue has long created fights within the Republican Party.

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis said during his gubernatorial campaign that he would sign E-Verify into law, while accusing his primary-election opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, of working behind the scenes with agriculture interests to scuttle prior efforts to enact such a law.

Putnam said on the campaign trail that Florida employers “need a stable, legal workforce” and that Congress needed to come up with an immigration fix.

Earlier this year, the state Constitution Revision Commission rejected a proposal that would have asked voters in November to require businesses to use a similar system. The proposal drew heavy opposition from agriculture, tourism and construction interests, and its defeat was applauded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“Our broken immigration system is a very real problem best solved comprehensively and conclusively at the federal level rather than 50 states each seeking a patchwork of solutions,” Edie Ously, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email to WJCT in response to Bean and Altman’s recently filed bills. “We look forward to working with the sponsors to help keep Florida’s businesses competitive, while insuring a lawful, safe, and productive workforce where Florida job creators are not unduly burdened.”

According to reform advocates the American Business Immigration Coalition, enacting a verification system would result in short-term job shortages in the agriculture and travel industries and cost Florida employers $4.7 billion in hiring costs and increased wages to fill them.

Paul DiMare, CEO of DiMare Distribution, known as “Mr. Tomato," said the state already has a 35-to-40 percent shortage of farm labor across South Florida and that implementing the verification program would drive migrant workers to other states.

“Let the government sit down and fix the immigration problem so that we all have labor,” DiMare said. “Don’t be chasing what we have now, when we don’t even have enough with the illegals and legals, we don’t have enough labor in the country.”

The issue goes back years in Florida.

Seeking to crack down on the use of undocumented workers, Gov. Rick Scott had as part of his 2010 campaign platform a requirement for all businesses in Florida to use E-Verify. After pushback from business groups supporting the agriculture industry, Scott eventually signed an executive order shortly after taking office in 2011 that required state agencies under his direction to verify the employment eligibility of all new employees by using E-Verify.

The 60-day legislative session begins March.

Messages left for Sen. Bean were not returned by this story’s deadline. It will be updated if he does respond.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.