A billboard "welcoming" illegal aliens to Florida and sarcastically thanking Gov. Rick Scott appeared on Interstate 75 Wednesday.
Produced by Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, the billboard calls out Scott for the state's failure to adopt an E-Verify law.
"This is a wake-up call for Governor Scott, who promised Floridians he would work to get mandatory E-Verify in the state to protect our legal workers," said Jack Oliver, legislative director of the group that goes by the name FLIMEN.
The 40-foot-by-10-foot illuminated billboard is along I-75's southbound lanes between the Georgia border and I-10.
Georgia with neighboring Alabama and South Carolina have all passed E-Verify laws.
House Bill 1315, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, would require private employers in Florida to run the names of new hires through the federal E-Verify system to determine eligibility for employment.
The bill has failed to get a committee hearing. Scheduled for four committee stops, it is all but dead this session.
Last year, the Senate passed a watered-down E-Verify measure, but the House never took it up. A companion House bill by Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, was not heard.
"Seven states have passed E-Verify, making Florida a sanctuary state and haven for illegal aliens, which is not acceptable," Oliver said.
Blaming "a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans who owe their allegiance to criminal illegal-alien employers in the state," FLIMEN said Florida taxpayers spend billions of dollars "educating, medicating and incarcerating" some 900,000 undocumented immigrants and their children.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, agricultural interests and "social-justice" allies on the left combined forces last year to defeat E-Verify legislation. The business groups branded the screening system unreliable and burdensome, while Hispanic activists complained of racial profiling.
E-Verify proponents cited independent studies that found the free, computer-based program had a 98 percent rate of accuracy in cross-referencing Social Security numbers and driver's licenses. Last year's proposed bill, like this year's, would have required all employers to use E-Verify on new hires, regardless of ethnicity.
Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, a co-sponsor of E-Verify bills during the past two years, said, "the pro-E-Verify position is well-documented. The negative side is not."
"We're not against people coming here legally. But we need to have a debate," Pilon said.
There was no such debate this year, since HB 1315 received no hearing.
A staffer for Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said the panel had more than 100 bills to hear this session. More than 33 bills were heard by the committee by Jan. 31.
Oliver urged Scott to use the "bully pulpit" to get the E-Verify bill heard.
"Scott got elected on this issue. He crisscrossed the state promising to enact E-Verify," Oliver said.
"He has the power of the bully pulpit. He has the power to extend the session if he wants to."
Oliver said he sent a letter to Scott's office advocating for the legislation, but received no answer.
In one of his first executive orders upon taking office in 2010, Scott directed all state agencies under his control to use E-Verify when hiring.
Scott's office did not respond to Sunshine State News' requests for comment.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.