A bill banning “sanctuary cities” in Florida became the first piece of legislation passed by the state House on Friday. The 71-35 vote was down party lines.
It’s a move that critics say is more of a political statement by Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who is expected to announce his candidacy for governor after the session ends in March.
“Can you claim to respect the rule of law while violating two different constitutions in over a half-dozen ways? Of course you can’t,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “But you can serve up pounds of red meat for an increasingly intense primary season.”
Corcoran told House members on the opening day of the session that he did not want to allow Florida to “become a sanctuary state like California.”
“This isn’t a political statement. This isn’t some academic exercise,” Corcoran told members Tuesday. “When politicians abandon the rule of law and abuse their power – when they pick and choose what laws to obey – there are dire, dire, consequences.”
The measure would require state or local governments or law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration laws. Those that declare themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants would face stiff fines of up to $5,000 for each day they are determined to be out of compliance.
“Those who support this bill are not, I repeat, are not anti-immigration. Every single one of us in this room has a history of immigration,” said Rep. Ross Dano, R-Dover. “We’d be fools to say we did not believe in immigration. This is about lawful immigration and the rule of law.”
“Do you want to be remembered as someone who is spreading fear,” said Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Latana. “Decided to support a bill and hide behind the ‘rule of law,’ knowing we create the rule of law. Knowing this rule of law is unjust.”
The bill has been passed by the House in previous years, but has never passed the Senate. Its sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said he began working on the legislation a couple of years ago after hearing of the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco. She was allegedly shot by an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported. The man charged with her killing was found not guilty last month
“I thought this should never have happened, never have happened. But it did because of the misguided policy that was enforced. The sanctuary policy. I said I never want to see this happen in the state of Florida,” Metz said during his closing comments on the bill.
Friday’s vote follows comments reportedly made by President Trump during an immigration meeting with senators held on Thursday in which Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries as “shithole nations.” It’s a remark Trump now denies making.
During Friday’s debate on the sanctuary bill, Corcoran and his leadership team released the following comment regarding Trump’s reported comments.
“If the remarks attributed to President Trump are accurate, they have no place in our public discourse. America’s greatness is self-evident, we do not need to tear down other nations. The leadership of the Florida House celebrates our diversity,” House leaders said.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, is sponsoring the measure in the Senate this session. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Rules committees but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.