Florida attorney general proposes Arizona-inspired immigration law

Liz Goodwin

Florida's attorney general, gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum, proposed an immigration law Wednesday that would go "one step further" than Arizona's controversial law cracking down on illegal immigration.

The law would require police to verify immigration status while making a lawful stop and would require employers to use the E-Verify system to check citizenship status before hiring. It would also let judges levy harsher penalties on convicts who are illegal immigrants — the provision that would go "one step further" than Arizona.

McCollum's press release says his office "made changes to the draft legislation to strengthen it against potential constitutional challenges." But a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional Arizona's identical requirement that officers verify immigration status. (You can read the Florida draft legislation online as a PDF.)

McCollum is locked in a bitter primary with Republican Rick Scott, who has spent millions of dollars on TV ads saying the attorney general is soft on illegal immigration. Polls show that conservative Republican voters list illegal immigration among their top priorities, according to a local Fox TV affiliate.

But about 10 percent of Florida's 4 million Republican voters are Hispanic (PDF). In Arizona, a poll showed that 80 percent of the state's Hispanic voters disagreed with the immigration law, so it's unclear how McCollum's move would play out in the general election in Florida, if he wins the primary.

In polls, McCollum trails Scott, who has accused McCollum of abusing his power as attorney general.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has said Florida doesn't need an Arizona-like law, is helping  McCollum campaign for governor.

Photo of Bill McCollum: Associated Press