House and Senate Republicans support passing a ban on so-called sanctuary city policies, but differences between the chambers are stalling final passage of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top legislative priorities.
The House late Tuesday night was preparing to take up the issue, but Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, had made clear the House does not support a Senate version of the bill. The House was expected to substitute its version for the Senate bill. Such a decision, however, could potentially send the “whole thing up in flames,” said Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine.
“I would support either bill addressing illegal immigration, but the Senate is in better position to pass the Senate bill,” Hutson said.
The Senate version (SB 168) narrowly passed the upper chamber last week and then went to the House. Lawmakers would need to reach agreement on the issue before the annual legislative session is scheduled to end Friday.
The House version, in part, includes tougher sanctions for policymakers who don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The House plan would allow local-government employees and elected officials to be suspended or removed from office, and local governments could be fined up to $5,000 for each day they have sanctuary-city policies in place.
The House also wants to allow people to bring wrongful-death lawsuits against local governments if their loved ones are killed or injured by undocumented immigrants as a result of local sanctuary-city policies.
The Senate has only agreed to give enforcement authority to the governor, who would be allowed to remove local officials from office, and the attorney general, who would have the power to bring civil actions against local governments.
On the side of caution, Hutson said he would like to maintain support for the Senate bill. That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who has been a constant target by opponents of the bill and is wary of federal programs that deputize local law-enforcement officers to perform the duties of federal immigration agents.
Senate bill sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, told The News Service of Florida he is well aware of concerns some senators have and understands that it may be difficult to pass the House proposal in its entirety in the Senate.
Oliva, however, is not a fan of the Senate’s weaker sanctions and a “carve-out” for employees who work at the state’s child welfare agency from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. He said the carve-out for the Florida Department of Children and Families creates a “sanctuary department within the state.”
“Such a great irony for a bill that is seeking to make sure everybody cooperates with law enforcement,” the Miami Lakes Republican told reporters on Monday.
If the House sends its bill back to the Senate, Gruters said he remains “confident we are going to salvage it,” even though he remains concerned about time running out in the legislative session.
The sanctuary city issue has been one of the most-controversial issues of this year’s legislative session. Such proposals have died in recent years in the Legislature, but DeSantis has made the issue a priority.