Senate Bill 2040 must clear the Senate Budget Committee by day's end, according to the latest timetable. Still bottled up by Chairman J.D. Alexander, the heavily amended measure would require employers to use the federal E-Verify database or Real ID-compliant driver's license identification to screen new hires.
The driver's license alternative was added by Judiciary Chairwoman Anitere Flores, but the addition has not garnered support.
Democrats -- ever-attuned to the special pleading of migrant-rights groups, legal or illegal -- adamantly oppose any tightening of the rules.
Majority Republicans, who can pass legislation without any Democratic votes, have splintered amid pecuniary resistance from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Industries of Florida, the agriculture industry -- and now, an onslaught of visiting immigrants.
On the other side, tea party groups have lobbied for E-Verify. Proponents note public-opinion polls showing support for tougher immigration laws at the state level.
Gov. Rick Scott also sent a strong signal that he supports the verification program with his executive order mandating its use in all state agencies under his control.
Speaking to a tea party rally on the Old Capitol steps on the opening day of the Legislature, Senate President Mike Haridopolos promised that his chamber would pass an E-Verify law (see video).
But since then, an E-Verify bill authored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, was absorbed into a Judiciary Committee bill, and then adulterated by Flores, R-Miami.
Despite Haridopolos' pledge, his appointee to the Judiciary chair, Flores, has made it clear that she is uncomfortable with immigration legislation. Her languishing committee bill is far weaker than the House version -- HB 7089 -- which pairs an E-Verify requirement with enforcement provisions that enable law-enforcement officers to tack on immigration charges during the course of a criminal investigation.
Floridians for Immigration Enforcement roundly criticized the Senate's tinkering with E-Verify. Advocates citedgovernment studies pointing to the system's high accuracy rate and expanded use across the country.
"Because E-Verify addresses the root cause of illegal immigration -- the job magnet -- mandatory E-Verify for Florida is clearly the best solution to reduce the estimated $5.5 billion fiscal cost to Florida," said David Caulkett of FLIMEN.
Tea party groups across the state also support E-Verify.
Manatee Tea Party member Judith Hood called out Haridopolos in an April 20 letter:
"The decision is yours: side with the illegal aliens funded by George Soros, and aligned with Florida Immigrant Coalition, ACORN, ACLU, SEIU, and other organizations that want to destroy our state and country, or respect the rule of law, protect Florida taxpayers and get legislation passed protecting legal workers. Which will it be?"
Feeling the heat, Senate Republicans, many of whom campaigned for tougher immigration laws, have gone underground.
A Sunshine State News e-mail survey sent to all 28 Republican senators elicited just one affirmative response. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he would vote for SB 2040.
Meantime, Alexander and Haridopolos have entertained visits from legal and illegal immigrants at the statehouse.
Haridopolos' warm and fuzzy encounter with the children of immigrants at his office on Tuesday, a day after Alexander held a prayerful meeting with migrants, fueled speculation that the Senate leadership is ready to let SB 2040 die.
And if SB 2040 cannot pass the Senate, the chances are slim to none that the tougher HB 7089 could survive there.
The prospect of no immigration legislation emerging this year will not sit well with conservative tea partiers who expected Republican lawmakers to break a string of nonproductive sessions on the issue.
According to FLIMEN, Republican leaders have blocked 29 immigration-control bills in recent sessions. The 2012 Legislature is shaping up as deja vu all over again.
"For most of this legislative session, there have been a select few RINOs who have caused most of the problems. Their MO many times is to say publicly what they think we want them to say, only to go behind closed doors and tell leaders something completely different," said Robin Stublen, a tea party leader from Charlotte County.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.