Declaring “we are a nation of rules,” Florida Republican lawmakers have officially revived their efforts to go after so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties in Florida — and their elected officials — that don’t fully cooperate with federal enforcement of immigration law.
The bills (SB 786 / HB 697) — dubbed the “Rule of Law Adherence Act” — impose an array of restrictions to ban “sanctuary policies” in Florida and create fines and penalties for state agencies, local governments or law enforcement agencies that have one. Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, unveiled their legislation Wednesday in Tallahassee.
“The one thing that everybody should know in our country is: We can’t choose which laws we’ll obey or which laws we don’t obey,” said Bean, who told the Herald/Times last week the legislation would be coming.
A similar plan to outlaw ‘sanctuary cities’ failed to pass in the 2016 session.
The bills would formally define a “sanctuary policy” as any “law, policy, practice, procedure, or custom adopted or permitted” by a state, local or law enforcement agency “which contravenes or which knowingly prohibits or impedes a law enforcement agency from communicating or cooperating with a federal immigration agency with respect to federal immigration enforcement.”
It’s not clear when — or even, if — the legislation might be considered, but the proposal is likely to draw backlash from Democrats, as well as immigrant advocates and local governments.
Metz said federal law already requires state and local governments to cooperate, “but there’s really no penalties for states and localities that fail to cooperate.”
“What this bill would do is put into policy in the state of Florida the idea that our immigration policies at the federal level should receive cooperative support at the state and local level,” he said.
Last year, efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities stalled. That measure, also from Bean and Metz, passed the House with Republican support, but it was never considered in the Senate.
The 2017 legislation is largely similar to last year’s proposal. Specifically, it would:
▪ Prohibit government entities from adopting sanctuary policies and require any existing ones to be repealed within 90 days;
▪ Require state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to “fully comply” and support federal immigration law and prohibit any efforts to restrict or limit that support;
▪ Require government officials and workers to report “known or probable violations” of the act — under threat of suspension or removal from elected office — and require the attorney general to investigate those reports;
▪ Protect whistle-blowers who report such violations;
▪ Impose a fine of up to $5,000 a day, starting Oct. 1, on any government entity that is found to still have a sanctuary policy;
▪ Allow the governor to remove from office any elected official who is found to have violated the act;
▪ Allow government agencies to be sued should a person who is in the country illegally injure or kill someone as a result of the government entity having a prohibited sanctuary policy;
▪ and, withhold state grant funding for five years from any government entity that violates the act.
The bills do not go so far as to remove the sovereign immunity of elected officials — a protection that prevents them from being sued for work done in the course of their official duties. Bean had said that was one provision they were considering.
Bean said the results of the November election could give the proposal a better chance in his chamber this year.
“We’ve got 20 new members of the Florida Senate … so it’s a new ballgame for us,” Bean said.
Metz sidestepped a question about whether the election of President Donald Trump could boost the effort. Trump railed against sanctuary cities during his run for election and has issued an executive order restricting some funding for those local governments.
“I’m always optimistic about bills,” Metz said. “I wouldn’t file a bill if I didn’t believe in it.”
Herald/Times reporter Jeremy Wallace and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.