by Kathleen Haughney
The News Service of Florida
Florida lawmakers plunged headfirst into the immigration debate on Wednesday, rolling out an Arizona-style immigration proposal for the Sunshine State at a news conference in Orlando.
Sponsored by Rep. William Snyder (R-Stuart), the proposal would require police to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants during a lawful stop, require businesses to use a federal database to check the status of new hires and subject illegal immigrants who commit crimes to harsher penalties than legal immigrants or U.S. citizens.
“We produced a bill that I believe, if enacted, will go a long way in resolving some of the problems we have today,” said Snyder, flanked in Orlando by Attorney General Bill McCollum and several of his legislative colleagues.
The immigration issue has permeated all of the major political races in the state, particularly the Republican gubernatorial primary in which front-runner Rick Scott has consistently touted the Arizona law on the campaign trail.
McCollum’s position for the past few months has been more difficult to decipher, but he worked jointly with Snyder to develop the proposal and earlier joined several other state attorneys general in an amicus brief supporting Arizona in its courtroom fight with the Obama administration over the law.
Like Arizona, the proposed Florida legislation requires aliens to carry immigration documentation or face a criminal penalty. The misdemeanor charge for failing to carry documentation would carry a sentence of up to 20 days in jail for the first offense. The proposal also makes it a misdemeanor for an illegal immigrant to seek employment in Florida.
“We have the police powers, not the federal government,” McCollum told reporters.
Opponents of the legislation and some lawmakers have raised concerns that racial profiling could occur if the bill becomes law. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is opposed to the Arizona law as are the two Democratic candidates for attorney general, Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber.
U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton, who ruled in the Obama administration’s case against Arizona in July, said at the time that the law would violate a U.S. Supreme Court directive that legal immigrants not be subject to “inquisitorial practices” about their status or to police surveillance.
On Wednesday, McCollum said the draft language was written with the judge’s ruling in mind and ensures that no racial profiling would take place, adding that “that’s not how police operate today.”
“It’s not how you look,” he said.
Snyder said he is just starting to reach out to other key lawmakers to get feedback on the legislation, which will be officially filed in the near future. The bulk of the debate, however, would not likely take place until the spring legislative session.