Florida Anti-Sanctuary Bill Passes Key Committee
By David Jaroslav | March 1, 2019
After two contentious hearings, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee has voted out Senate Bill (SB) 168, which would ban sanctuary policies across the Sunshine State. While the bill’s final passage still cannot be guaranteed, this may have been its biggest hurdle in the process, and represents a huge step forward.
Filed by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) on December 18, SB 168 was met by a flood of opposition from open-borders groups, who filled the hearing room to speak against it first on February 11 and again on February 19. Those opponents of the bill made the same arguments they always make, but Sen. Gruters restated and emphasized that, as he wrote in an op-ed published the day before the second hearing, “[c]ooperation between local and federal authorities works, and it should be required throughout Florida to protect our law-abiding citizens and maintain a level playing field for those who have not barged to the front of the line but have followed the rules.”
Joining Sen. Gruters’ at his side for the second hearing was Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (R), a 35-year career law enforcement veteran as well as an attorney, who answered the committee’s questions about the mechanics of how local law enforcement actually work with immigration detainers.
As amended in the committee and voted out 4-2 on party lines, the current version of the bill would:
- Define and ban sanctuary policies, both by local governments and state agencies such as public universities;
- Require local governments and state agencies to honor immigration detainers;
- Require each county to enter into an agreement with the federal government in order to seek reimbursement of the costs of honoring detainers, i.e., holding illegal aliens in their jails; and
- Authorize the Florida Attorney General to sue for an injunction to stop sanctuary policies, which could be enforced by contempt of court.
SB 168 still has two more committee stops before reaching the Senate floor—in the Infrastructure & Security Committee and then the Rules Committee—while its House companion, House Bill (HB) 527, sponsored by Representatives Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach) and Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), has not yet been heard in any of its three committees. But while similar bills have passed the House three years in a row, none has ever before been voted out of even one committee in the Senate.
Compared to those previous years, however, political dynamics in Tallahassee appear to have notably shifted in favor of anti-sanctuary legislation. This is likely because it can now count on strong support from new Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who made immigration enforcement one of the central parts of his election campaign. Sen. Gruters was a prominent supporter of DeSantis during that campaign, while DeSantis in turn most recently supported Gruters’ successful bid for the chairmanship of the Republican Party of Florida.
The Florida Legislature is scheduled to convene for its regular session on March 5 and adjourn on May 3. In these next few months, the prospects for the Sunshine State to ban dangerous sanctuary policies now look quite positive.