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“HB 527/SB 168 Is An Unforced Error Republicans Can Avoid”: What Reporters Need To Ask About Florida’s Anti-Immigrant Bill in Advance of Senate Vote

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“As a state, Florida has the reputation nationally of being the place where bad things happen to dumb people who didn’t anticipate the consequences of their actions. Lawmakers in Tallahassee should play against type.”

Florida Republicans passed a state ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” through the lower House of the legislature this week which sets up a vote in the Senate for today. The bill, HB 527 and SB 168, would require all jurisdictions and state agencies to cooperate fully with federal immigration authorities to apprehend and deport immigrants, including honoring detainers placed on immigrants by ICE.

The bill hit a snag on Thursday as Senate Democrats added an amendment to exempt the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state agency responsible for child welfare and domestic abuse issues, which caused Republican sponsors to pause the process. However, the vote on passage could happen as soon this afternoon.

Despite the slowdown, the legislation has been moving with great urgency in Tallahassee, even though Florida does not have any cities currently thought of as “sanctuary cities.”

Which has left a number of open questions.  For example:

1) In their haste, has the Florida GOP scored the bill for its impact on the state’s budget and economy?

The economic impact will be significant, an estimated $3.5 billion in lost GDP, according to a report from the New American Economy Research Fund, which analyzed the impact of similar bills in other states. Additionally, business and agricultural leaders have raised red flags, but the legislature is legislating in the dark without a clear accounting of what the bill will cost taxpayers. Also, with the ACLU and Florida Immigrant Coalition already warning immigrants to avoid the state and its multi-billion dollar tourism industry, repercussions could be extensive and long-lasting.

2) If the Legislature took the time to exempt DCF to protect vulnerable victims, why are they rushing to pass the bill without further exemptions or carve outs for schools, universities, hospitals, and other sensitive locations and populations?

Sensible amendments to shield vulnerable populations were rejected by Republicans. This means victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking are not shielded, nor are witnesses in criminal matters, nor victims in emergency situations like hurricane evacuations. If targeting serious criminals who are a threat to public safety is the stated intention of the legislation according to its Republican backers, why not exempt people who could be deported because they are simply interacting with state agencies, even in emergencies or other settings where public safety is at risk?

3)   Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. clearly has reservations about the impact of the bill, having offered an amendment to exempt victims of crime from being routinely turned over to federal immigration authorities for deportation, but will there be penalties if local police violate this provision? Which other unintended consequences of this sweeping legislation will supporters regret if it passes?

Douglas Rivlin, Communications Director for America’s Voice, a national pro-immigrant advocacy group said: “Others states have gone down this dead end street, working with the anti-immigration advocates to craft bills that sound tough and end up being tremendously costly to state budgets, damaging to public safety, and destructive to the fabric of communities across the state. Florida’s legislature has an opportunity to step back and make sure the policy they are considering actually strengthens the state rather than sets in motion consequences that will cost every taxpayer in every jurisdiction. HB 527/SB 168 is an unforced error Republicans can avoid in a state where one in five residents is an immigrant and major industries like agriculture and hospitality rely on immigrant labor. As a state, Florida has the reputation nationally of being the place where bad things happen to dumb people who didn’t anticipate the consequences of their actions. Lawmakers in Tallahassee should play against type and spare the state from this costly and disastrous legislation.”