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House Committee Passes Wage, Benefits and Paid Sick Time Bill

March 8, 2013 | WMFE - A proposed bill that could lower wages and reduce benefits for many workers in Florida passed a House committee on a party-line vote Thursday. The Republican-backed bill (HB 655) would prohibit counties and cities in the state from establishing local ordinances regarding employee wages and benefits. Among other things, the bill would prohibit local governments from ordering employers to provide benefits such as paid sick leave.

[Image: Republican State House Representative Steve Precourt of Orlando]

The bill has strong backing from the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests. But the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, a Republican from Orlando, says the measure is not meant to keep employers from paying higher wages or providing generous benefits.

“This bill is not about paid sick leave,” Precourt says. “It's not about vacation benefits. It’s about whether we should have uniform application of these things.”

Some commissioners in Orange County are currently under investigation after they kept a measure off of the November ballot that would have required employers in the county to provide paid sick-time for all employees.

Advocates presented a petition with more than 50,000 citizen signatures to let voters have a say on the issue. After numerous text and email communications with business lobbyists and local Republican activists, some of which were exchanged during a public meeting on the measure, the commission voted to postpone putting the measure on the ballot. Orlando activist Stephanie Porta is a leader of the Citizens for a Greater Orange County, a group pushing for the paid sick-time initiative.

Porta told the committee that this legislation represents exactly what the business lobbyists asked the commissioners to do.

“There are text messages that said ‘please delay as long as possible, prevent it from being on its ballot. We will let Tallahassee deliver the kill shot,’” Porta said. “That's exactly what this bill does.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether some commissioners broke the law by deleting those text messages and a judicial panel ruled last month that the commission violated its own charter by keeping the measure off of the November ballot.

The panel ordered the commission to place the sick-time initiative on the next countywide ballot.

Central Florida businesses say a mandatory paid sick-time law would cost businesses between $60 million and $80 million a year and would likely lead to job lay-offs.         

If Representative Precourt’s bill becomes law, it would make the judicial order to place a sick-time initiative on Orange County's next ballot moot.

It would also force some counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward, to drop local ordinances requiring certain companies to pay slightly more than the federal minimum wage.

But local minimum wage ordinances that already exist would remain in effect for three years after the bill becomes law.


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