Politics

Florida may have Arizona-like anti-illegal immigration law by August

Chris Moody Contributor
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A Florida state representative says he is committed to proposing an “Arizona-style” immigration bill during Florida’s upcoming special legislative session that Governor Charlie Crist has called in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite reluctance from other members of his party, Republican state Rep. Kevin Ambler said Monday that he would propose a tough immigration bill, potentially opening the door to a new summer controversy in the Sunshine State.

“The public is demanding that something be done and they don’t have the patience to wait until next year,” Ambler, who is making a run for the Florida Senate, said about a potential bill that would give Florida local authorities more power to enforce immigration laws.

Government records estimate that there were as many as 720,000 unauthorized immigrants in Florida in 2009, a 14.3 percent drop from the year before. Only California and Texas have higher populations, Department of Homeland Security records show.

The Florida state legislature typically meets for a 60-day session that begins in March. Crist, who was formerly a Republican but is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, called for the special session last week in an effort to reinforce Florida’s laws against oil drilling off the coast. While state law already bans the practice, Crist said he wants a constitutional amendment to make overturning the ban more difficult in the future. Critics have called the session “political posturing” for Crist, and say the governor is using the oil spill to advance his U.S. Senate campaign, but that has not stopped members like Ambler from trying to introduce new items for the agenda.

But even those who join Ambler in support of a new immigration bill don’t think the short session is nearly enough time to pass such a bill.

State Rep. William Snyder announced Sunday that he and state Sen. Mike Bennett will work on an immigration bill for Florida, but said they do not plan to introduce it until the 2011 session.

“I want to move the bill, but I do not foresee the governor expanding the call [for the special session] to include that,” Snyder said. “All the voices for and against should be heard and I think that is exceedingly difficult to accomplish in just a few days.”

Given the thousands of bills the legislature deals with during their regular 60-day session, Ambler said he is confident the legislature would have little problem producing a bill if given the green light.

A Crist spokesman said that the governor has no intention to add new issues to the special session, but would not stop the legislature from addressing more if they felt it necessary.
“Governor Crist has said that the focus of this special session should be limited to a constitutional ban on off shore drilling and it should be the only issue members consider at this time,” Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said. “The Florida Legislature may expand the role of the special session, but Governor Crist will be focused on the constitutional amendment.”

The special session will run July 20-23.

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