A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a watered-down proposal aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from getting jobs in the state, an issue that has long divided Florida Republicans and is sowing discord among prominent business leaders.

Along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee backed the bill which would require employers to do immigration checks on all new hires through E-Verify, a federal database run by the Department of Homeland Security.

But the vote came after significant changes. Initially, the measure would have applied to all public and private employers --- a position backed by Gov. Ron

DeSantis and the Republican Party of Florida.

But an amendment pushed by Senate Judiciary Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, changed the bill to carve out employers in the agriculture industry and some public contractors.

“This is an effort to create something between the two extremes that exist regarding the use of an E-Verification system,” Simmons said.

Under the revised version, owners and operators of farms,

medical marijuana nurseries, food processing plants, cotton gins and canneries would not need to use the electronic system, which is devised to block undocumented immigrants from entering the workforce.

The amendment also would exclude any agricultural employer who “either recruits, solicits, hires, employs, furnishes, or transports any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker.”

Meanwhile Tuesday, two powerful figures in the state also slammed the move by lawmakers to exclude one industry from the mandate.

Mike Fernandez, a billionaire health-care executive and former GOP donor who opposes E-Verify, told The News Service of Florida the agricultural carve-out suggests it is meant to protect the business ties of some lawmakers.

Echoing that thought, Congressman Matt Gaetz, a close ally of DeSantis and President Donald Trump, said the amendment might as well be called the “selective amnesty for big donors amendment.”

Gaetz went further and suggested Sen. Wilton Simpson, an egg farmer who is slated to become Senate president after the 2020 elections, was among those who would benefit from the exemption.

Employers with at least 500 employees would need to do the check starting Jan. 1, 2021. Businesses with at least 150 employees would not be required to use the system until Jan. 1, 2022, under the bill.

Meanwhile, a proposal in the House that would exempt all private employers from the E-Verify mandate has not been heard in committees.

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