“We just need a simple process, that sees (workers) get paid,’ said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, adding that businesses needed to be protected from litigious employees.
But critics argue that programs like the one in Miami-Dade — which has saved workers more than $600,000 — show that counties can, and should, solve their own problems.
Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who represents Little Havana, has worked on wage theft cases as a legal services lawyer and opposes HB 1125.
“I don’t see any justification for both cutting down people’s rights and also making it more difficult for local governments to help their own citizens,” he said.
The bill offers an exemption for Miami-Dade and Broward counties--which already have wage theft programs—but bans other counties from following suit.
Living Wage, Sick-Time laws
Backed by the business lobby, lawmakers are moving bills this year to outlaw local governments from creating ordinances related to “earned sick time” and “living wages.” The ordinances, which are on the books or being considered in South Florida and Orange County, require businesses to offer wages or benefits that are higher than the minimum wage.
In Miami-Dade County, companies that get government contracts must pay a “living wage,” an hourly payment significantly higher than the state’s $7.79 minimum wage. In Orange County, voters are seeking to create an “earned sick time” law. It would require companies in the area to provide sick time benefits for employees.
Worried that the Orange County ballot effort would hurt profits and lead to copycat laws elsewhere, businesses like Disney and Darden Restaurants have mobilized to strike it down in Tallahassee.
“This patchwork would create a cumbersome maze of county-by-county leave policies – driving up costs and decreasing the opportunity to create jobs,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.
If the bill passes this week, a pending ballot referendum in Orange County scheduled for 2014 would be rendered moot. Worker activists have accused Tallahassee lawmakers of trouncing on the rights of local voters, who gathered 50,000 signatures for a sick-time ballot initiative.
Stephanie Porta, of the Florida Coalition for Local Control, called the bill a “scheme to deny local governments and citizens the right to vote on local laws [and] part of a larger effort to deprive citizens of their right to vote.”
Local lawmakers also feel slighted by the Tallahassee mandates.
The Miami commission voted unanimously to urge the Florida Legislature to abandon the preemption effort.
“I hate to see the state telling us what to do,” said City Commissioner Willy Gort, during a meeting last week. “We’ve got our home rule that we have to provide, and we can make our own rules.”
Growth Management, Environmental Regulations
In 2011, the Legislature passed a sweeping growth management bill that gave local governments more authority to regulate development. The bill gained support of the Florida Association of Counties and the League of Cities, groups that endorse local control.
This year, the Legislature is rolling back many of those reforms, with preemption bills that bar local governments from imposing “impact fees” and “mobility fees” on developers.
Lawmakers say the fees harm job creation, but city and county advocates are unhappy by the about-face.
Local environmental regulations — also the bane of developers — have been in the Legislature’s cross-hairs as well.
Legislators are moving bills that preempt environmental permitting and fertilizer restrictions adopted by local governments as part of their groundwater protection efforts.
"Every year, we face a slew of bills that take away local government decision making totally away,’’ said Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida.
HB 999, which was passed on Thursday by the House, includes a provision that specifically targets the city of Rockledge, in the district of Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.
Under a last-minute amendment tacked onto the bill last week, any local government that had adopted an ordinance regulating wetlands after March 4, 2013, would be barred from enacting it. Rockledge approved a wetlands protections ordinance on March 5.
Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this article. Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter at @ToluseO.