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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jul. 14, 201012:00 PM EST

Immigration bills filed for special session

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by John Kennedy

The News Service of Florida

FROM THE CAPITAL

With the push for an Arizona-style immigration law already playing a central role in the Republican primary for governor, a pair of Florida legislators Tuesday sought to add the issue to next week’s special session on oil-drilling.

Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) and Rep. Kevin Ambler (R-Tampa) unveiled measures that would make it a crime for aliens in Florida not to carry registration documents required by federal law, while authorizing state and local law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of residents.

The measures (HB 1C, 3C, 5C) also would crack down on those sheltering, hiring or transporting undocumented residents. Dockery’s legislation has not emerged yet from Senate bill-drafting.

“With communities around the state being threatened by those who violate our immigration laws and a federal bureaucracy unable to fulfill one of its major responsibilities, the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to make a real difference during this special session by addressing the issue of illegal immigration in our state,” the two lawmakers said jointly in a statement Tuesday.

Lawmakers are kicking around the prospect of building on the one-issue, four-day special session Gov. Charlie Crist called last week to put on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment banning oil-drilling in Florida waters. But adding any other bills to the session will take approval from at least two-thirds of both the House and Senate, a tough task given the political fracturing that plagues many of the issues being discussed.

House and Senate Republicans are gauging the prospect of reviving proposed constitutional Amendment 7, a redistricting question thrown off the ballot last week by a judge who said it was confusing to voters. Democrats were mostly united in their opposition to the amendment during last spring’s session and appear unlikely to budge during the special session.

November ballot measures must be approved by Aug. 4, under state law.

Property-tax relief for homeowners and businesses hurt by the Gulf oil spill, and measures to assure BP-financed compensation flows to individuals and governments, also are troubled by an inability by lawmakers so far to reach consensus.

But toughening state immigration laws may face an even more combustible mix of partisan divide and election-year politics.

“I’m going to resist any expansion of the governor’s session call,” said Sen. Alex Villalobos (R-Miami), who has told Crist he will sponsor the oil-drilling ban in the Senate. “The more you add to the mix is a recipe for us not to take action on this amendment, which we have to do by Aug. 4. Why should I put the constitutional amendment at risk?”

Villalobos, like many Hispanic Republicans in the House and Senate, also is wary of the immigration proposal. Critics nationwide have warned the Arizona measure invites harassment of Hispanic residents and the Obama administration earlier this month sued Arizona, saying the new law is unconstitutional and also saps law enforcement resources.

Ambler and Dockery, however, are drawing support for their special session push from Florida Republican gubernatorial contender Rick Scott, who has spent $20 million of his own money on television ads, including spots that chide his primary opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, for his shifting positions on the Arizona law.

While Scott has called for Florida to enact stricter immigration laws, McCollum initially distanced himself from the Arizona law and earlier this year said it’s not needed in Florida. McCollum last week toughened his stance by urging Crist to require state agencies to use a federal Homeland Security E-Verify system to check employees’ immigration status.

Scott had earlier recommended that all Florida employers be required to use E-Verify. And Tuesday, Scott aired a statewide radio spot in which the candidate demands, “Bring the Arizona immigration law here to Florida. Now. Pass it in the special session.”

McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell reiterated the attorney general’s support for the Arizona law, but stopped short of advocating that lawmakers consider a similar measure next week.

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