TALLAHASSEE -- Miami-Dade and Broward counties would have their decades-old living wage ordinances repealed and local governments would be banned from enacting similar employment benefits under a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee.
The measure, HB 655, by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, would impose new limits on how contract employees are paid when they do work for local governments. It not only preempts the laws now in place now in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and in cities such as Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville. It would also ban Precourt’s home county, Orange, from enacting a living wage proposal set to go before voters in 2014.
“Some counties like Miami-Dade are so large that their ordinances are really distorting the current economy and there is a need for uniformity,’’ Precourt told the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee. He said the laws have suppressed the state’s ability to generate jobs.
Opponents countered that the laws, which have been on the books in some cases for 14 years, have actually stabilized employment and helped businesses.
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Living wage laws have “actually increased [business] profits because there is a dramatic increase in profitability and a dramatic decrease in turnover” as workers become more productive, said Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida chapter of the AFL-CIO.
Florida lawmakers have already banned local governments from establishing local minimum wages. This extends the ban to vendors who contract with them by preempting ordinances that now require certain businesses that sign contracts with the county to pay their workers a wages indexed to inflation that exceeds the federal and state minimum wage.
Enacted in 1999, the Miami-Dade ordinance applies to contracts greater than $100,000 and for services such as food preparation, security, landscaping, parking and clerical work. All companies that contract with Miami-Dade Aviation Department must also offer the wage, regardless of contract value. This year, the living wage is $12.06 an hour in Miami-Dade if the company also offers health insurance and $13.82 an hour without health insurance.
Broward County has a similar ordinance that offers “living wage” rates of $11.13 with health insurance and $12.57 with health insurances.
Precourt’s bill would also apply to other benefits offered by counties, such as Miami-Dade’s 1999 ordinance that gives 30-days of unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence.
Randall Holcomb, a researcher with the James Madison Institute, a free-market think tank, told the committee that the bill was necessary because the current situation is “slowing economic growth and it’s causing unemployment.’’ He presented a report financed by the institute, whose board includes members of companies what would benefit from the ordinance, such as Publix Supermarkets.
Holcombe called the living wage rules “local Band Aids” that suppress jobs and “hurt the employees because they are going to end up having lower wages as a result.”
The bill was endorsed by most of Tallahassee’s business establishment — the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, the utility contractors, and Associated General Contractors.
Several opponents shared their personal stories and urged the committee to reject the bill.
Miami-Dade resident Willie Bailey said he came to Tallahassee as “a father that continues to support my grown daughters working jobs on minimum wage.
“It is totally impossible to live off of minimum wage,’’ he told them. “Can you support your families off of minimum wage? What happens if you get sick?”
Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, said local governments have it all wrong.
“We want people to be successful so they can hire more people,’’ he said. “We should not destroy or interfere with the free market system because of situations like jerk bosses or deadbeat dads.”
The committee voted along party lines to support the bill.