State Attorney General Bill McCollum said his proposal that would require Florida police officers to check a person’s immigration status during traffic stops or arrests improves on Arizona’s contentious law.
A federal judge in Arizona last month blocked a provision in the Arizona law that requires officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. But McCollum, who is a Republican candidate for governor, said the Florida bill would get around the judge’s concerns by strictly defining what is considered “reasonable suspicion” and also by specifically prohibiting profiling based on race, color or national origin.
The Florida bill also would allow courts to increase penalties if a convict is in the country illegally. It also would consider legal residency when setting bond for a suspect. Noncitizens who don’t carry documents showing they were in the country legally would face a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 20 days in jail and a $100 fine.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton also blocked provisions in the Arizona law requiring immigrants to carry registration papers but McCollum didn’t talk about how his proposal would get around that.
Opponents said the bill was harsh, infringed on federal responsibilities, was politically motivated and was inhospitable for a state whose biggest industry is tourism and hospitality.
“I think it’s very onerous for people who come visit this state,” said state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. “Let’s not just talk about illegal immigrants, let’s talk about visitors to Florida. We are a tourist state.”
The bill also would force Florida businesses to use an online tool that runs a worker’s information against Department of Homeland Security and Social Security databases to check whether the person is permitted to work in the U.S.
Business owners found to have illegal workers would be on three years of probation during which they would have to file quarterly reports on new hires. They would also have to file a signed affidavit with the county attorney swearing they no longer employed illegal workers. The owner’s business license could be suspended for failing to file the affidavit.
Eventually the debate could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, but until then, several states are proposing similar legislation.
The Florida bill could be filed as early as November, said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, the bill’s sponsor.
“I think when we’re done passing this law, Arizona is going to want our law,” McCollum said during a news conference with several Republican state lawmakers. “They’re going to want to pass our law because we’re better, we’re stronger and we’re tougher and we’re fairer.”
Republicans control the Florida legislature and could push through the bill, though the man in line to become the House Democratic leader questioned the timing.
Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West said the bill would be given careful consideration but he questioned why it was introduced now. He said Republicans have controlled the Florida Legislature for the past dozen years but are only now supporting immigration legislation.
“It would appear they are doing this more for political purposes than policy purposes,” he said.
Florida’s immigration history is quite different from that of Arizona’s. Florida immigrants, such as Cubans, have flourished when given the opportunity, said Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, an advocacy group.
Rodriguez estimated that there are about 1 million undocumented residents in Florida, a state with 18.5 million residents.
“Florida is not Arizona … We’ve benefited tremendously from the entrepreneurship and leadership of large immigrant communities,” Rodriguez said. “What exactly is this bill going to fix?”
Rick Scott, McCollum’s opponent in the Aug. 24 Republican gubernatorial primary, accused the attorney general of flip-flopping on Arizona’s immigration law. Earlier this year, McCollum had said Florida didn’t need such a law. He said he changed his mind after Arizona lawmakers changed some language.