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Florida committee passes bill that aims to ban Syrian refugees

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In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Florida Gov. Rick Scott joined over two dozen other governors around the nation in saying he didn’t want any refugees fleeing war-torn Syria coming into his state. He also said that the federal government wasn’t providing him any information about who was coming in, or where they might being placed in the state.

Jacksonville Republican Lake Ray‘s “Prevention of Acts of War” bill (HB 1095) would attempt to address that issue. The bill directs the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct background screenings of certain refugees and immigrants, and directs the Governor & Attorney General to prevent entry into or resettlement in state of “certain restricted persons.”

“This is a very narrow bill, focused on specifically on people who could come in and could be a threat,” Ray told members of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. He blasted the federal government’s current system of vetting refugees as inadequate.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, 9-3.

There were several speakers who criticized the bill, including Mark Schlakman, senior program director for the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Schlakman said while working for Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994, the state found informal ways to deal with a refugee situation that appeared to be overwhelming the federal government. But he said that making this a formal arrangement didn’t make sense, saying that it’s dubious what new information the FDLE would be able to unearth after the refugees have already been screened by the United Nations and various federal agencies, a process that takes 18-24 months.

Laila Abdelaziz with the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), denounced the proposal, and said after the meeting that it will be struck down as unconstitutional.

“We’ve seen time and time again from Arizona and beyond that immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government,” she said.

“The truth of the matter is that there are people who want to kill Americans,” said Pinellas County Representative Chris Latvala, who rejected the contention that anybody who supported the bill was racist. “I love Muslims,” he said. “The truth of the matter is they’ve hijacked their religion, and (terrorism) is their means of disruption.”

Zephyrhills Republican Danny Burgess said he understood that the bill is controversial, but said that it was narrowly tailored, and that speakers representing refugees from Central America and other countries weren’t the focus of the legislation.

There is a companion bill (SB17) being sponsored by Trinity Republican Wilton Simpson in the state Senate.

Last month, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on a bill that would have halted the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until they underwent the strictest vetting process ever required for people fleeing their war-torn homelands. The bill called  the nation’s three top security officials — the Homeland Security secretary, FBI director and national intelligence director — to certify to Congress that each Syrian or Iraqi refugee was not a security threat before the refugee could be admitted into the U.S.

President Obama has said that he intends to bring up to 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. over the next year.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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