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Senate passes language preventing Pam Bondi suit against feds, takes it back

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Florida’s so-called “dreamers”- undocumented youth who were brought to this country as children – received a rude April Fools joke from the Senate majority this afternoon.

Sen. Darren Soto introduced an amendment to SB 2500, better known as the Senate budget proposal, that would have prevented Attorney General Pam Bondi from pursuing a lawsuit against the Obama administration. Bondi has joined Republican attorneys general in 25 other states in challenging the President’s recent executive action to halt deportation of Dreamers who have not committed any serious crime.

Ordinarily a controversial Democratic amendment introduced on the floor would be quickly defeated, but due to the timing of the amendment – around noon, when several senators had left the chamber to eat lunch – and to the unorthodox sympathies of Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Rene Garcia who were on the floor, a very unusual thing occurred: the 14-member Democratic caucus succeeded in passing something the GOP leadership opposed, as Garcia and Latvala joined them in voting ‘Yea’ on the amendment, appending it to the budget by a vote of 16-15.

It was, of course, too good to be true for the Democrats. Following a consultation with Rules Chair David Simmons, Latvala – the Senate’s dissident Dark Star and so often the Democrats’ deal-making fixer – came to the rescue of his conservative colleagues this time by making a motion to reconsider, a mulligan that only a member on the winning side of a vote can invoke.

Citing Senate decorum and convention, Latvala explained that he voted for the Soto amendment “on accident” and would then reverse his vote out of deference for the relevant subcommittee chair, who opposed the amendment.

The amendment died upon reconsideration.

Senate President Andy Gardiner looked ill at ease throughout the legislative misadventure.

“We will do a better job of watching and flagging issues so that everyone is able to participate,” was his comment from the rostrum following the motion to reconsider, downplaying the public policy tensions at play.

The amendatory ordeal marked the second time this week Soto has caused the Florida Senate to abandon the script, however momentarily. He also succeeded in attaching unfriendly language to a Sen. Anitere Flores-sponsored bill to eliminate a jet fuel sales tax exemption in the Senate Finance & Tax Committee on Monday.

Soto denounced the Senate’s eventual action to vote down his amendment, which would have worked by declaring work by the attorney general’s office for the specific purposes of the federal lawsuit against the law, in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Many of these children were brought here by their parents as refugees from extreme poverty and violence in their home countries. Others were born here and face the breakup of families through deportation thanks to the Congress’ failure to act,” said Soto. “I was proud to file the amendment today to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to undermine this important program.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at [email protected]

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