Maybe it was the work day the governor spent last month in a citrus grove, but the governor has left no doubt that he has backed off his election promise to require private employers in Florida to use the federal E-verify system to determine their employees' immigration status.
He said Wednesday that he now supports only a "national E-verify program because I don't want to put Florida businesses at a competitive disadvantage."
This is a nuanced but significant shift from the promise he made when he campaigned, repeatedly promising "to require all Florida employers to use the free E-verify system to ensure that their workers are legal."
It was a position that sent organizations like the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Growers and other agriculture-affiliated institutions flocking to the governor's primary opponent, Bill McCollum, and even prompting many farmers to support Democrat Alex Sink in the general election. Both McCollum and Sink, both more experienced at the identifying the minefields of Florida politics, opposed a state requirement that private employers must verify immigration status through the federal database -- although agreed it should apply to state workers.
The database compares employment information in the federal Homeland Security and Social Security system to determine the legal status of employees. However, the database is considered incomplete and employers complain it takes too long to determine verification.
The governor first signed an executive order imposing the requirement that any new hires in state agencies, and those hired by companies that contract with the state, be cleared through the federal E-Verify database. then he tried and failed to get the Legislature to impose an E-verify program.
Now it looks like the governor got religion.
His first clue came on June 12, when he told a meeting of the Florida Citrus Mutual in Bonita Springs that "it would be foolish to put Florida companies at a disadvantage," according to a report in The Lakeland Ledger.
We asked him today to clarify today. Here is his full answer:
"Here's what I feel about our immigration policy. Number one, the federal government needs to have a national, secure borders. Two, have an immigration policy that everybody understands – Americans and people who come to our country. Three, we need to make sure we have a work visa program that doesn't put Florida businesses at a disadvantage.
"Now, with the regard to E-verify, as you know we did it for people who do business with state government but we've got to have a national E-verify program because I don't want to put Florida businesses at a competitive disadvantage."
The governor also reportedly told the growers group that he would not support any legislation should the issue be revived.