TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Republicans have mostly toed the party line during the first weeks of their legislative session. But that unity will certainly be tested when lawmakers begin debating a proposal to force private employers to use a federal database to check the immigration status of workers.
Some key legislative Republicans, including Sen. President Bill Galvano, would rather not be debating the matter again, after it failed last session amid heavy opposition from the agriculture, tourism and construction industries.
Nevertheless, the matter is getting another round of hearings because Gov. Ron DeSantis has made the issue among his priorities, arguing that all employers need to be sure the people they hire are in fact legally eligible to work in the United States.
The Senate Judicial Committee is scheduled to take up legislation Tuesday that would deliver what DeSantis wants — and the discussion could expose fissures within Republican ranks.
Sen. Tom Lee's bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, who also chairs the Republican Party of Florida.
Hoping to broker a compromise within the party, another Republican has sponsored an E-Verify bill that would exempt the private sector. The watered-down bill could give DeSantis political cover by handing him a nominal victory on the matter.
It remains to be seen how much political muscle DeSantis and his allies will exert to win passage of the broader E-Verify bill.
If approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, most Florida employers would be required to use the E-Verify system, an electronic portal operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that confirms the eligibility of people to work in the United States.
The E-Verify system is already being used in Florida, albeit in a limited way. Former Gov. Rick Scott ordered all state agencies that were under his control to use the E-Verify system – a practice that continues under DeSantis.
Republican unity could also be tested during budget negotiations that must get underway in earnest so they can adjourn on March 13 as scheduled.
The Senate has proposed a budget of $92.8 billion — nearly $1.5 billion more than what the governor is requesting. The House is recommending a smidgen less than the governor's $91.4 billion spending plan.
The House and Senate are both proposing to raise teacher salaries — as the governor has requested — and increasing pay for state workers, who are negotiating for a raise.
There are wide gaps in the spending priorities between the two chambers, including spending on housing programs and Florida Forever, the state's land conservation program.
But there is likely to be little dissension over declaring the end of the telegraph era.
A measure repealing laws regulating the telegraph industry has sailed through committees and is scheduled to be taken up by the House floor Wednesday.