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Florida Ban on Sanctuary Cities Goes to Governor

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature approved a broad measure targeting so-called "sanctuary cities" on Thursday, despite the state not having any cities with policies aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.

(CN) – The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature approved a broad measure targeting so-called "sanctuary cities" on Thursday, despite the state not having any cities with policies aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.  

In this March 6, 2015, photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony during an early morning operation. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

After passionate, sometimes angry debate, the Florida Senate and House passed the Rule of Law Adherence Act along party lines, with only a handful of Republicans defecting.

Long sought by conservatives in the Sunshine State, the bill now heads for the desk of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who indicated he would sign it.

The measure requires all state entities, such as local governments and law enforcement, to "use best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law."

Under the bill, local law enforcement must cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain undocumented immigrants after an arrest and notify the federal agency if the inmate is released.

This would not be a new practice for many Florida counties, but the law also obligates other government entities, such as universities and the Department of Children and Families, to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The measure also prohibits local or state entities from restricting a law enforcement agency from collecting information about a person's immigration status and sending it to ICE.  

In addition, local governments cannot pass any resolutions that would impede immigration enforcement. If local officials resist, the governor can suspend them and initiate proceedings to remove them from office. The attorney general can also pursue a civil suit.

The passage of a bill so closely aligned with the conservative immigration debate championed by President Donald Trump is no accident. The bill's sponsor, Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is chair of the Florida Republican Party and served as co-chair for Trump's Florida campaign for president. 

Governor DeSantis, a Trump protégé who made hard-line immigration policy a large part of his campaign, quickly tweeted praise of the bill soon after passage.

"I thank the Florida Legislature for presenting me with a bill that upholds the rule of law and addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida," he said. "We are a stronger state when we protect our residents, foster safe communities and respect the work of law enforcement."

Democrats, immigrant rights groups and even some Republicans fiercely opposed the bill as it made its way through committees during the legislative session.

Co-chairs of the American Business Immigration Coalition, which includes a former Florida Republican Party chairman, urged DeSantis to veto the bill.

" It will transform every government agency, university and law enforcement agency into federal immigration officers," they said in a statement. "It will threaten immigrants who are doing essential work in Florida."

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups issued a Florida "travel warning" for immigrants and people of color who "could face risks of being racially profiled and being detained without probable cause" if the law passed.

Democratic debate on the floor of the House and Senate alternated between impassioned pleas and outright anger.

“This is a proactive bill that panders to fear,” Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said on the floor. “It panders to the specter of what is not.”

But State Representative Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, framed it differently.

"We work within these rules and laws of this chamber to legislate this great state," Overdorf said. "Without these rules, without our members choosing to follow these rules, this very chamber would plunge into chaos. This bill is simply requiring and reaffirming that our state is choosing to follow the laws, regulations, the rules. Not just some of them, but all of them."

After Republicans voted down more than 100 proposed amendments, Representative Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, promised to keep fighting the law after passage.

"It's going to continue in the courts," he told his colleagues. "I promise you that."

On Friday, the last scheduled day of the 2019 session, state lawmakers passed a flurry of bills, including legislation that would require felons to pay all restitution, court costs and fees before being eligible to vote.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the bill undermines Amendment 4, a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by voters in November that restores the voting rights of felons who complete their sentence, with the exception of those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Since the passage of Amendment 4, Republican lawmakers have expressed the need to clarify its language calling for “automatic” restoration for those “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.”

The Florida Legislature also passed a bill that increases the jurisdictional limit of cases in the county courts over the next three years.

If the governor signs the measure, county courts will have jurisdiction over claims of $30,000 or less beginning in January 2020. That will increase to $50,000 in 2022.

Currently, county courts only deal with cases seeking less than $15,000. Florida has not changed the $15,000 jurisdictional limit since 1992.

If passed, Florida’s civil court system could undergo significant changes as thousands of cases are shifted to the state’s burdened county courts.

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