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Florida House tosses punitive ‘sanctuary cities’ bill back to Senate

The House’s version built in a rule that government employees or elected officials who permit ‘sanctuary-city’ policies may be suspended or removed from office. It also includes fines of up to $5,000 for each day that a ‘sanctuary-city’ policy is in place
[Miami Herald]
[Miami Herald]
Published May 2, 2019
Updated May 2, 2019

A harsher, heavily amended version of the Senate’s bill to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” in Florida was approved by the House Wednesday.

The bill will now go back to the Senate, where President Bill Galvano said he expects his chamber to amend the bill to make it its own and send it back to the House. Then the House has to take one last vote — or change it again and send it back.

“I think the fact that the governor and his team has weighed in has made a difference,” Galvano said. “But we’re still the Senate. We’ve made our own adjustments and we’ll make adjustments again.”

The Bradenton Republican said the governor and his staff have been “very engaged” on the issue, and it’s had an effect on pushing the bill further than it has gone in past sessions.

The House’s move is one in a series of volleys back and forth as the two chambers walk the fine line between creating a law they like and simply getting something done.

The Senate version of the bill was heavily amended by the House during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, transforming it overnight into what looks nearly identical to the House’s harsher version of the bill.

Under both bills, local and state law enforcement would be required to honor federal law enforcement’s request for an “immigration detainer,” meaning a request that another law enforcement agency detain a person based on probable cause to believe that the person is a “removable alien” under federal immigration law. The bill would essentially make the “request” a requirement.

But the House’s amendment built in a rule that government employees or elected officials who permit sanctuary-city policies may be suspended or removed from office. It also includes fines of up to $5,000 for each day that a sanctuary-city policy is in place, an “anonymous complaint’ web portal through the attorney general for any person to submit an alleged violation of the policy and the threat of removal of state grant funding for entities with so-called “sanctuary policies.”

House bill sponsor Rep. Cord Byrd said that even if the Senate strips down the House version, “there will be some enforcement.” He said at the minimum, it will have language that allows the governor the power to enforce compliance of the law.

“Our goal is to get a bill that works for law enforcement and works for the governor to sign,” the Neptune Beach Republican said. “I still feel good. There’s time. We’re going to have some late nights.”

Democrats fought back on the floor, expressing the same concerns they’ve expressed each time the bill has come up: It is too broad and would affect innocent undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Evan Jenne, who led the structured debate for the House Democrats, said he expects the Democrats to continue their pushback.

“We will fight past the point of exhaustion on this issue.” the Dania Beach Democrat said. “This bill will come back and we will do it over again. Over and over, and over again.”

Byrd said the “killer to the bill” was a Senate amendment by Miami Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, which exempted the Department of Children and Families from the requirements of the bill. He said as long as the Senate doesn’t add it back in, “I think we’ll be able to get to a place both chambers could live with.”

The Senate will likely take up the newly amended version Thursday, and either vote to amend it or keep it the same.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican said the House’s sending back an amended version is “setting up a real dangerous game,” which he expressed to Gov. Ron DeSantis when he met with him Wednesday afternoon.

While the legislative session will extend until Saturday, the special weekend day will be reserved to voting on the budget. All other bills will have to pass on Friday if they are to pass at all.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

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