Florida HB-1265 would require all employers to verify worker eligibility
A bill in the Florida House of Representatives would require all employers to verify that all new workers are eligible to work in the United States. The proposal was filed on January 10 by Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, and given the official designation House Bill 1265.
If approved, HB-1265 would require every public employer, their contractors and subcontractors, to begin using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security E-Verify system in January 2021.
Cord Byrd’s proposal is a ‘downsized’ version of Florida Senate Bill 664, which was introduced on October 24 by Senators Tom Lee and Joe Gruters. That bill would require all public and private employers to use the E-Verify system.
HB-1265 would give private businesses an alternative option to collect copies of USCIS Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Form I-9 is the core component of the E-Verify system. A decision to accept this form would be a significant concession to private employers in Florida.
Federal law already requires every employer who hires an individual for employment in the U.S. to complete Form I-9. Furthermore, E-Verify confirms eligibility, while submission of Form I-9 is only a step in that process. The employee’s Social Security number and a photo ID are required for E-Verify confirmation, but they do not have to be submitted with Form I-9.
Private businesses would only have to use E-Verify if the apply for taxpayer-funded incentives through the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
E-Verify is a controversial topic in Florida
The subject of employee verification has divided Florida Republicans for years. It's very popular among the GOP's conservative base but is fiercely opposed by the state’s agriculture, construction and tourism industries.
The concession to private businesses gives Byrd’s proposal greater chances for success in the Florida House of Representatives.
Cord Byrd says his bill would essentially turn an existing directive into a state mandate. An executive order signed in 2011 by then-Governor Rick Scott compelled all administration agencies to use E-Verify. Other state agencies were only "encouraged" to use the system.
The executive order did not impose penalties on violators of the directive. House Bill 1265 adds what was missing by exposing all public employers and their contractors to penalties if they hire employees who are not authorized by federal law to work in the United States.
Under HB-1265, if a public employer in Florida terminates an agreement with a contractor for not using E-Verify or for hiring unauthorized aliens, the contractor could not be awarded a public contract in Florida for at least one year. They would also be liable for costs incurred by the public entity as a result of the contract being terminated.
E-Verify has never been seriously enforced against private businesses
All federal government agencies use E-Verify. Private employers with federal contracts or subcontracts containing the Federal Acquisition Regulation E-Verify clause are required to enroll in E-Verify.
In addition to Florida, about 20 states make some public employers and state contractors use E-Verify. In 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that in the seven southern states that require businesses to use E-Verify, not a single business license had been cancelled and only Tennessee had assessed any fines.
Progress in the Florida House of Representatives
On February 27, the Senate Commerce Committee approved HB-1265 by a 15-8 margin, with votes split largely along party lines. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the full House this week.