TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's pledge to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida probably won't happen, but a House committee voted Thursday to bring him the next-best thing.
The new Florida immigration reform plan would require police to check the immigration status of a person who is under arrest or is the subject of a criminal investigation.
That language stops short of Arizona's controversial law, which requires police to determine a person's immigration status whenever the officer makes "any lawful contact" with the individual.
To critics, Florida's proposal will essentially allow for the same type of racial or ethnic profiling that they say is the inevitable product of Arizona's law.
But proponents say Florida just needs to crackdown on illegal immigration to ensure the nation's laws are followed. Like the Arizona law, the House proposal requires all employers to verify employees' work status.
"My feelings for this issue and my passion for this issue is not just for the rule of law," said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart. "It's not just about jobs — which it is to some extent — it's about what we've allowed to occur in our country."
Snyder said it "turns my stomach" to hear arguments about how food and labor are cheap because farms, hotels and construction foremen hire undocumented immigrants and pay them less. Snyder compared the arrangement to slavery.
Snyder didn't have to sell the bill too hard in the House Judiciary Committee, where he's chairman and where Republicans outnumber Democrats, who cast the lone nay votes in the 12-6 approval.
Snyder's bill is the first of a handful of immigration measures cropping up in the Florida Legislature.
A Senate bill, sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, will be voted on Monday, but it doesn't require law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of arrestees or criminal suspects in cases of "reasonable suspicion." Instead, the Senate bill would require jail, prison and other detention officers to check the status of an inmate.
Subhash Kateel, an advocate from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the Senate bill was marginally better than the House proposal, but both are too close to the Arizona law.
"In the end, the problems you see with people who are stopped for driving while black will happen," Kateel said.
Lawmakers are under intense pressure to crack down on illegal immigration — an issue that polls well, except among Hispanics, who happened to be a prized voting bloc in the state. Gov. Scott made an Arizona-style immigration law a cornerstone of his primary campaign and expects the GOP-led Legislature to deliver a bill he can sign.
But big business also opposes the measure, with the Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Retail Federation, Florida United Business Association, and Florida Chamber of Commerce speaking against the House bill Thursday. The employers said they didn't like the regulations requiring them to use the federal government's eVerify system, which can have errors.
Florida Chamber lobbyist Adam Babington said Florida's reputation could be tarnished. "The debate is not helpful to the state," he said.
But Bill Landes, activist with Florida Minuteman, said Florida needs to make sure legal residents aren't losing their jobs to those who aren't lawfully in the state.
"This is real life," he said. "These are your citizens out here who are doing without work, working constructions working the hotel/motel."