With protesters filling the Capitol, FL House passes tough immigration bill – but it’s not over yet.

Immigration activists at the Capitol protesting SB 168 during the 2019 session

The Florida House passed its version of a bill that would require local law enforcement and all other government agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities on Wednesday. If ultimately signed by the governor, the bill would make undocumented immigrants much more vulnerable to being deported.

The vote was 69-45 in the GOP-controlled chamber, as about a hundred activists protested against the bill inside the Capitol, and one protester was detained. (Another, Thomas Kennedy from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said later he was ejected from the Capitol after protesting in front of the governor’s office and told not to come back for a year).

However, it’s not a done deal yet, as significant differences remain in the Senate version, just two full days left in the regular legislative session.

The legislation will now return to the Senate to either accept or reject the House version. If the changes aren’t accepted, the bill could die — just like it has in the past couple of years.

The House bill includes penalties on local officials who don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. It calls for local-government employees and elected officials to be suspended or removed from office, with the potential for local governments to be fined up to $5,000 daily if they have so-called “sanctuary” policies in place.

Sanctuary policies provide a safe haven for the undocumented.

“The fines are important in making sure that people adhere to the law and do their job,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva after the vote.

The Senate proposal doesn’t go as far as giving out steep fines.

The Senate’s legislation would give the governor the authority to remove local officials from office who continue to espouse “sanctuary” policies. The bill also would allow Florida’s attorney general the power to bring civil actions against local governments, but not fine them.

On the House floor on Wednesday, Republicans said that the bill was simple in its premise.

“Is Florida going to be a sovereign state that allows a local government to thumb its nose and violate federal law or not?” asked Rep. Jamie Grant from the Tampa Bay area. He accused Democrats of “ginning up” protesters with false rhetoric.

House bill sponsor Cord Byrd agreed, saying that there was a lot of “fear-mongering” going on.  He represents Nassau and part of Duval County.

Meanwhile, protesters called out chants for about a half hour in the rotunda on the 4th and 5th floors in the Capitol. They also protested in front of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. DeSantis strongly supports the crackdown against the undocumented.

“People are scared,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orange County. He blasted Republicans for denying that the bill would separate families.

“When somebody’s brother is pulled over during a traffic stop for whatever reason and they’re arrested for driving without a license…that’s family separation,” he said.


Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.


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