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Miami Republican no longer in charge of Senate immigration bill

Sen. Anitere Flores is no longer in charge of a thorny immigration bill, a possible sign that Senate leaders intend to move forward with a more hard-line proposal than the Miami Republican had been willing to accept.

Flores originally filed SB 2040 as chair of the judiciary committee. She has said she agreed to take on the controversial issue because, as a Cuban-American, she would be sensitive to the concerns of Hispanics who fear any immigration proposals would inevitably result in racial profiling.

SB 2040 takes a softer line than HB 7089, which would criminalize being in the state illegally. The House version would require employers to use the federal government’s e-Verify system to check the immigration status of potential employees; the Senate attempt gives employers other alternatives to e-Verify.

That lighter mandate spelled trouble for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who is running for U.S. Senate and faces pressure from tea-party conservatives to crack down on illegal immigration.

On Wednesday afternoon, Haridopolos told reporters Sen. J.D. Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican and Senate budget chief, would now be in charge of the immigration proposal. The bill will be heard in Alexander's committee Thursday.

"I've asked Sen. Alexander to take over the bill, and he's agreed to take over the bill," Haridopolos said, in an effort to find common ground on the contentious issue that has drawn scores of undocumented immigrants and their children to the state Capitol in protest.

Part of that consensus, Haridopolos said, could involve checking the immigration status of inmates and requiring the state to use the federal government's e-Verify system to screen job applicants at workforce agencies and people who apply for state aid.

Is handing off the bill to Alexander an indication that Flores disagrees with those proposals?

"I think she agrees with some and disagrees with others," Haridopolos said.

On Tuesday, Alexander had told reporters that he cares about immigration reform but it is not one of his priorities.