By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI — About a dozen bills targeting illegal immigrants were filed in the Florida Legislature this year, but the uptick in proposals did not translate into new laws.
Proposals that had not passed by the end of the legislative session Friday required public employers and contractors to check employees' immigration status, and required local police to notify federal authorities when they detain illegal immigrants.
Democratic Leader Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said some of the reasons the measures did not pass have to do with the fact that Congress has a lot of the authority to make laws related to immigration. Gelber also said he believed anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding some broader proposals may have hurt the chances of more moderate and focused bills.
"This is an issue that's easy to demagogue," Gelber said. "That probably weighed down some of the ideas that did make sense."
Gelber said he was disappointed that his own bill (HB 1247) requiring that federal authorities be notified of inmates who are illegal immigrants did not pass.
The bills also included a proposal to make it a crime to knowingly bring someone into the state who entered the U.S. illegally. That bill (SB 424, HB 107) would have allowed local law enforcement to detain suspected human smugglers coming across the Florida Straits. Right now, only federal agents can do that.
Rick Watson, legislative counsel for the Associated Builders & Contractors of Florida, said his organization was particularly opposed to proposals that would have required contractors to check the immigration status of new hires (SB 388, HB 159). Watson believes the bills failed because such a large coalition of groups, including his, opposed them.
"All of the construction was opposed, the Catholic Conference and the farmworkers," he said. "I just don't think there was stomach in the legislature to deal with such a controversial issue."