- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida’s governor would be able to use military force to keep out immigrants or refugees from certain parts of the world under a bill passed by a House committee on Wednesday.

The “Prevention of Acts of War” bill would let the governor designate so-called restricted people - those he determines are from countries where “invaders” live or train in preparation for an attack in the United States. That includes people coming to the United States from areas near those countries.

The bill - which faces a number of hurdles, including little demonstrated interest from the Senate - would prohibit any state or local government employee or any person receiving state assistance of any kind, including Medicare, from helping certain immigrants or refugees entering or resettling in Florida unless the immigrants were born in the Western Hemisphere.

Anyone assisting a restricted person would have to turn that person’s personal information over to the state. The state would be allowed to monitor restricted people. The bill faces two more committees before it can make it to the House floor for a vote. A similar Senate bill hasn’t been scheduled for its first of three committee hearings, a sign that its prospects are dim.

Under the measure, Gov. Rick Scott or Attorney General Pam Bondi could take legal action to prevent the federal government from resettling a restricted person in the state. Scott also would be authorized to use all powers, “including police powers, emergency powers, and military force,” to keep restricted people out of Florida.

It would also require that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement do a background check on every restricted person in Florida.

Republican Rep. Lake Ray of Jacksonville said his bill is responding to the threat of the Islamic State group and attacks in Paris and elsewhere. He said terrorists are falsifying passports and trying to send invaders to the United States. He said Florida has a duty to protect its citizens and economy.

“God forbid one of these events happened at a Disney or a Universal Studio,” Ray said. “You can put ‘For Sale’ on the state of Florida.”

The bill was approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on a 9-4 vote with only Republicans in favor and only Democrats opposed. Instead of a simple “yes,” Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights cast his vote with an emphatic “Absolutely.”

The provision that keeps immigrants born in the Western Hemisphere off the restricted people list would apply to South and Central Americans, Mexicans and Canadians, but wouldn’t automatically apply to people born in many countries allied with the United States, including Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Greece and parts of France, Great Britain and Spain.

Ray included language in the bill that states the Florida constitution gives the governor the right to use all military forces not in active service of the United States, including the general militia, to defend the state.

There was no debate on the bill from either side. In the Democrats’ case, they just didn’t bother.

“It’s hard to dignify a bill like that by debating it,” Democratic Rep. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth said after the meeting. “It’s unconstitutional, it’s offensive, it does nothing for the safety and protection of our state and it’s highly ineffective and very subjective. I could go on for hours about problems I have with the bill.”

He also noted that none of the Republican representatives debated in favor of the bill and suggested that their support is a reflection of their constituents’ fears.

“It’s playing into an area in which Donald Trump has done very well, and that’s capitalizing on the fears of, more likely than not, good people,” Kerner said. “I think a lot of the Republican members voted for it because they felt compelled to by the constituents and that’s a broader reflection on society right now.”

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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