Guns and immigration expose divides in Florida GOP – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune


Senate President Bill Galvano’s opposition to forcing Florida businesses to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of potential hires puts him at odds with Gov. Ron DeSantis and many conservatives.

Rejecting tougher immigration enforcement and considering new gun control measures are not policies that are likely to please many diehard Republican activists.

But those are two positions staked out by Florida’s Republican Senate president as the 2020 legislative session kicks off.

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President Bill Galvano’s opposition to forcing Florida businesses to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of potential hires puts him at odds with Gov. Ron DeSantis and many conservatives. So does the Senate president’s support for continuing the conversation on gun safety, which has resulted in a bill expanding background checks.

Galvano’s positions on those two issues may upset conservatives, but they are in keeping with a chamber that historically has been more moderate on hot-button cultural issues like immigration and guns.

As the Republican Party has grown more conservative, there was speculation that the Florida Senate would drift in that direction too, and it has to some extent.

Last year the Senate approved a sanctuary cities bill that forces local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

But after that wrenching, highly emotional debate, there may be less appetite among senators for another big immigration battle this year. Republicans hold a 23-17 majority in the Senate, and two of the GOP seats are South Florida districts currently occupied by Hispanic lawmakers.

Continuing to push hard on the immigration issue could put those lawmakers in a tough position with their constituents.

Some large business interests also oppose the E-Verify legislation, leading to criticism that Galvano is simply caving to big donors who want to keep using low-paid workers who are in the country illegally.

Galvano said last week that he worries E-Verify will create an “additional burden on private entities.”

Whether it’s politics, principles or special interest influence driving the debate, the E-Verify issue has quickly become a quagmire for Republicans.

DeSantis promised on the campaign trail to push for E-Verify and reiterated his support for the idea in his state of the state speech last week.

Some of the governor’s allies have complained that his proposal is being stymied in the Senate.

“One of the biggest downward pressure on wages for blue collar works is illegal labor paid under the table and so we want to bring that all out into the light with an E-Verify system for a high-paid legal workforce,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a prominent Panhandle Republican, during a recent radio interview. “And what is shameful is that we have Republican leaders in the state Senate who have already come out in opposition to Gov. DeSantis’ E-Verify proposal.”

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A bill that would apply E-Verify only to government agencies and contractors — exempting private employers — was rolled out by state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, just before the legislative session kicked off.

Gruters supported the initial E-Verify legislation that applied to all employers, but now says that only requiring government agencies to use E-Verify is a good compromise.

Others view the bill as an effort to save face and give DeSantis and the Florida GOP — which Gruters chairs — the ability to say they passed an E-Verify measure, even if it doesn’t do much.

Meanwhile, Gruters is facing blowback over the gun control measures advancing in the Senate. Some conservative activists aren’t happy about the legislation.

“My guess is it’s going to be tough to see any type of gun bill pass the overall body,” Gruters said in dismissing the gun legislation last week.

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But Republican senators in swing districts may feel pressure to keep the issue in the spotlight, considering there have been eight mass shootings in Florida since 2016. Galvano spearheaded the Legislature’s response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which resulted in the horrific massacre of 17 people, most of them young students. Since then he has continued to focus on the issues of school and gun safety.

“It’s important that we look at these issues in their totality,” Galvano said last week when asked about the background check bill. “That’s what we set out to do; that’s what I told the people of Florida that we would do.”

Gruters and Galvano are from neighboring counties and have known each other for years. They have worked together to advance issues such as environmental funding that are important to Southwest Florida, but their positions on E-Verify and guns show that there is still plenty of philosophical disagreement within the GOP.

Conservatives are expecting to get at least one priority through the Senate this year, a bill restricting abortion.

The legislation requires minors to get approval from a parent or court before getting an abortion.

But of all the abortion restrictions that conservatives have proposed in recent years, parental consent may be one of the least consequential.

There were 70,239 abortions in Florida in 2018 and only 1,398 — or less than 2% — involved minors.

The parental consent bill will get a lot of attention and could have a profound impact on a relatively small number of individuals, but it’s practical impact may be less significant than its utility as an election-year talking point for the GOP.

There’s still plenty of time for other conservative legislation to gain traction.

Gruters and other Florida GOP leaders are eager to fire up the conservative base during an election year.

Florida is a critical swing state that could decide the presidential race.

But Galvano’s political calculus may be different.

During his opening day speech on Tuesday, Galvano called for putting constructive problem-solving above politics.

“As we go into this session let us continue to show our constituents that we can exchange and debate ideas while maintaining civility and decorum,” he said. “That we can problem-solve together. That we can put aside personalities and politics for good policy.”



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