With deadlines nipping at their heels, Florida lawmakers are turning their attention next week to hammering out a state budget and possibly handing Gov. Ron DeSantis a major policy victory — or yet another defeat — on E-Verify, a top priority for the Republican governor in his bid to repel illegal immigration.
With time nearly out, the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday is considering a buzzer-beating proposal that would not only force cities and counties across the state to use a federal database known as E-Verify, but it would also require private companies with at least 50 workers to use the service to check the legal status of an employee to work in the United States.
The House is also rushing to finalize its own E-Verify bill. But unlike the version under consideration in the Senate, the House bill would exempt private employers.
With just two weeks to go before the scheduled end of the 2020 legislative session on March 13, the prospects for any E-Verify bill remains uncertain. To win passage, DeSantis and his legislative allies will have to work quickly to muster consensus.
The House version falls short of the more sweeping requirements DeSantis wants on his desk. The governor wants most employers — private and public — to use the E-Verify system run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But key Republicans have been reluctant to go along, particularly because business groups — especially those in tourism, agriculture and construction — have expressed concern.
Even the Senate version, while including larger private employers, provides an option for an alternative verification process — although it gives the Department of Economic Opportunity wide latitude in defining that process.
While the fate of E-Verify is still uncertain, more certain is a boost in the starting salaries for teachers — but how much money will be allocated for that purpose still needs to be hammered out as House and Senate negotiators finalize a state budget.
They will have a scant few days to bridge a $1.4 billion gap in their respective budget proposals. Key budget writers have said the gap sounds wider than it actually is, considering that the final state budget will end up being around $92 billion.
To adjourn by March 13, a budget would have be finalized no later than a week from Tuesday.
On a less contentious note, Tuesday is National Guard Day at the Capitol, and both chambers are taking up a handful of bills benefiting military veterans and active duty personnel.
Among the proposals is a ballot measure that would allow property tax discounts now available to a disabled veteran when they die to transfer to a surviving spouse.