By Jeff Schweers
Tribune/Naples Daily News Capital Bureau Published: February 9, 2016Updated: February 9, 2016 at 09:38 AM

TALLAHASSEE — After speeding through the Florida House of Representatives last week, a measure to prevent counties from passing so-called “sanctuary” policies and force them to help federal immigration officials round up illegal immigrants or face massive fines is all but dead in the Senate.

“I don’t think the sanctuary bills will find safe haven in my committee,” Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Republican leader from Miami, said Monday.

That should be welcome news to a host of interests outspoken in their opposition to the legislation — immigration advocates, law enforcement agencies, civil liberties groups, labor unions, and county and city governments.

“It’s a good sign” the measure has not been placed on a Senate agenda going into the fifth week, said Francesca Menes, spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, “but you never know.”

There are a number of procedures that would allow some other committee chairman to take up the matter, but Senate President Andy Gardiner is a firm believer in the traditional process and gives great discretion to the people who chair the committees where bills are first assigned, said Katie Betta, Gardiner’s chief of staff.

Still, Gardiner has often said, “Nothing is dead” until the session ends.

The Senate version, SB 872, was filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and co-introduced by Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

The House version, HB 675, by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, was approved last Tuesday 80-39, with all but two Latino Republicans voting in favor of the measure — even though Miami-Dade leaders and law enforcement officials said it would impose a big cost on county government.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami, a Republican and head of the Miami-Dade Hispanic caucus, walked out of the House chamber rather than vote on the measure, and Rep. Rene Plascencia, R-Orlando, voted against it with most Democrats. One Democrat, Michelle Vasilinda of Tallahassee, voted for its passage.

“Our communities will never forget the representatives who voted today to unleash the witch-hunt that will criminalize and racially profile our families,” said Pamela Gomez, Tallahassee Organizer for the We Are Florida Campaign.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition and other groups are planning a rally at the capitol on Feb. 17 to hand petitions to state lawmakers to oppose several anti-immigration bills.

“We’re definitely going to be holding Latino elected officials accountable,” said Menes with the coalition.

The federal government in January 2015 rolled out the Priority Enforcement Program to replace the Secure Communities Program, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement began asking local law enforcement to detain people up to 48 hours while it decides if it wants to take them into custody for deportation.

Within months, county and law enforcement officials around the state began opting out of the requests, citing the high cost of detaining people for days and weeks at a time with no chance of federal reimbursement. Miami-Dade County said it spent $12.5 million the year before the county commission voted not to cooperate on ICE detainers.

The Florida Sheriffs Association issued an advisory opinion to its 67 county sheriffs that detaining these people without a warrant raises Fourth Amendment concerns. Many courts have held that the immigration detainer doesn’t give ICE the right to require someone’s detention without a warrant or an order of deportation or removal, the association said.

The sheriffs’ association said no county in Florida has passed a sanctuary ordinance like San Francisco, the example often raised of what happens when local governments don’t help enforce federal immigration laws. Investigators say a woman there was slain in July by an illegal immigrant who has been deported more than once and has a felony record.

The Florida bill would punish local governments and law enforcement agencies that “shield such persons from personal responsibility for their unlawful actions” by charging a civil penalty of $1,000 to $5,000 a day for each day the sanctuary was in effect before injunction was granted.

Thirty counties have some sort of policy that “attempt to safeguard against unconstitutional detention requests from ICE” according to Shalini Goel Agarwal, lead author of an ACLU report that studied the hardships those counties would face under the proposed legislation.

No jurisdiction in Florida has what Agarwal would call a sanctuary ordinance, and she said law enforcement does cooperate with ICE in at least two significant ways.

“Everybody who gets picked up in Florida by police has their fingerprints sent to ICE,” Agarwal said. “Also, there is a separate notification step when someone is released from the county jail, and all are complying with that in Florida.”

The detainer requests are not a basis for restricting a person’s liberties, and would open local law enforcement to the exposure of civil lawsuits, she said.

“Detainees who have sued local jails over ICE detainers have won significant victories,” Agarwal said. “You can’t legislate your way around the constitution.”

The Florida legislation also doesn’t indemnify the county or sheriff against lawsuits.

“That would be one thing to say that we are confident of the legality of the legislation that we’ll pay if you get sued,” she said.

If the measure passes, counties would either have to “detain these people and open themselves up to lawsuits, and spend lots of money that the federal government won’t reimburse them for, or honor their constitutional obligation and pay thousands of dollars in fines to the state,” Agarwal said.