TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Government agencies and the private companies that contract with them would have to use the federal database known as e-Verify to make sure employees can legally work in the United States under a bill passed Monday by the Florida Senate.
Other employers would have the option of using e-Verify or a form that's already required under federal law to verify employment eligibility. The bill, which passed on a 23-17 vote, would require employers to keep the forms on file and make them available for random audits by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made e-Verify a priority for the legislative session that is scheduled to end Friday. The bill underwent several changes before Senate passage, and could see more amendments when taken up by the House later this week.
"We are a nation of laws. We don't pick and choose which ones we want to enforce, because when that begins we have anarchy. What we are asking employers to do in this bill is simply follow federal law," said Republican Sen. Tom Lee, the bill's sponsor. "It's not really that hard."
But Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would be a burden on businesses. They also argued that the state shouldn't be enforcing federal law.
"Not even the Trump administration is including mandatory e-Verify in its plans, so why would we as the state of Florida have a mandatory electronic verification system, including e-Verify?" said Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.
The bill would only apply to employees hired after its July 1 effective date. A provision of the bill would allow anyone to complain to the state that a business is employing a non-eligible employee, but would make it a second-degree felony if someone knowingly makes a false complaint.
Businesses could be fined $500 for each violation if the bill becomes law. If the state identifies an employee that isn't eligible to work in the United States, the state would would have to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
"A lot of people say this is a federal issue and why is the state even dealing with it, but in reality it's because D.C. has failed us and they left us to pick up the pieces," said Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, who is also the state Republican Party chairman.