State Sen. David Simmons (left) is considering a move to bring the House’s bill prohibit earned sick pay and living wages before the Florida Senate. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is considering introducing the Florida House’s version of a bill that would prohibit local governments from requiring employers to offer sick pay benefits and living wages to workers. The House’s version of the bill currently prohibits more benefits than the current version before the Senate.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney and Darden Restaurants have been among biggest proponents of the House’s bill. In fact, Simmons and the House sponsor told reporters that their bills were written with the help of those two companies. Disney and Darden also fought a grassroots campaign to place a sick pay measure on Orange County’s 2012 ballot.

Simmons’ version of this bill does not prohibit local living wage ordinances. Miami-Dade County, Orlando and Gainesville passed living-wage ordinances after activists in those counties lobbied to have commissioners change local laws. The Senate bill does, however, zero in on sick-time measures, such as the one that will be up for consideration in Orange County in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Senate might take up the more restrictive bill:

Instead, Simmons said he may largely substitute his bill for a companion House measure that would not only block local adoption of mandatory sick days for workers, but would also kill local wage measures that exist in Orlando, Gainesville, and several South Florida communities.

House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, is sponsoring the House measure.

“I discussed the differences in the two bills with Rep. Precourt [Tuesday],” Simmons said by email. “Since we both agreed to discuss the matter with our presiding officers, it is premature to speculate how we will ultimately resolve the differences.”

When asked later if the House bill had ever been heard by a Senate committee, Simmons said: “I believe the House Bill is sufficiently similar so as to permit it to be heard in the Senate.”

Unions and religious groups are opposed to the bill, which Democrats in the Legislature describe as a “power grab” by state lawmakers.

If the bill becomes law, it would deal a blow to activists in Florida’s more liberal cities who have spent years trying to expand worker benefits. Because the Legislature is controlled by Republicans in bother chambers, unions and labor activists have focused their efforts on passing worker-friendly laws in local government.

But if this bill passes, those efforts will be moot.

The number of Florida workers without benefits, such as earned sick time, has been growing, due primarily to the increasing number of low-skilled jobs in Florida following the economic recession.