In a move inspired by Orange County’s fight last year over paid sick-time, the Florida House voted mostly along party lines Thursday to block local governments from adopting their own stronger worker wage and sick-leave protections.
The House bill, HB 655 which passed 75-43, would render moot a potential 2014 vote in Orange County over whether to require that governments and contractors offer paid sick-leave to workers.
And it would nullify “living wage” laws on the books for a decade in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which ruling Republicans said was necessary to provide “certainty” to businesses.
House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, an Orlando Republican carrying the House bill, has argued businesses needed “certainty” as more local governments considered their own wage and sick-leave policies. Florida decided in 2003 to “preempt” local governments on minimum-wage laws, and this is an extenson of that policy.
“We’re just saying these other employment benefits are just like the wage,” Precourt said. “This isn’t about the merits of paid sick-leave.”
Some 50,000 Orange County voters tried to place the earned sick-time measure on the ballot last year but it was scuttled by the county commission. Afterward, a three-judge panel ordered them to put it on the 2014 ballot.
But the bill would preempt Orange from adopting its own sick-leave ordinance, if it passed.
“Businesses … need to know they have consistency and stability in the environment in order to drive economic growth,” said Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford. “What we can’t have is a patchwork of ordinances all over the state.”
But Democrats argued ruling GOP lawmakers were countermanding local voters at the behest of large companies.
“This would send the message that when the voice of the people gets louder, we will use the power of Tallahassee to shut them down,” complained Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando.
“It would tell the 50,000 residents of Orange County that even if they followed the rules and worked inside the process, we don’t care what they say.”
“This is a power grab by the Legislature,” said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.
Before the vote, Broward County Mayor Kristen Jacobs told the House Democratic caucus that one GOP argument for snuffing out their living wage ordinance — that it might spread elsewhere — was false because Palm Beach had never adopted one, even after Broward did so in 2002.
During debate, Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said GOP lawmakers from Central Florida were abusing their power by trying to settle a local issue by punishing other local governments.
Orange County’s fight “had nothing to do with us in the south. You are abusing the process here.”
The House bill is being pushed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and major Central Florida employers including Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants.
The Senate bill (SB 726) by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, tried offering a concession by ensuring up to five unpaid sick days for all full-time workers in Florida.
Both bills aim to snuff out local efforts to secure stronger paid sick time protections, which are now pending in Orange and Miami-Dade counties.
But Precourt’s bill also targets wage protections already in place or pending across the state, including existing living-wage ordinances in Orlando, Gainesville and several South Florida communities.
Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, argued big companies like those pushing the bill wouldn’t be shuttered if more counties adopt wage-protections.
“They’re going to survive. It’s the small businesses that will have trouble with these new regulations, espcially 67 of them,” he said. “They’re going to suffer.”
The Senate has yet to take up its version of the bill.
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