The Anti-Sick Pay and Anti-Living Wage bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, passed in the Florida House. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The GOP-led Florida House of Representatives passed a bill last night that would prohibit local governments in the state from implementing laws that extend paid sick leave benefits to workers. The bill is similar to others backed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC and Florida’s anti-sick leave bill have a considerable amount of corporate support.

Florida’s House Bill 655, which passed 75-43 Thursday, would also invalidate any move by local governments to mandate living wages for workers.

Currently, activists in Orange County have been working to place a measure on a ballot that would allow residents to vote on whether they want a county-wide ordinance requiring earned sick pay. They were able to collect the thousands of signatures needed to get on on the ballot last year, but county commissioners intentionally stalled to prevent a sick pay measure from getting on the November 2012 ballot.

It was later discovered that some of the commissioners who kept the measure off the ballot were communicating with lobbyists representing companies opposed to the measure, including Darden Restaurants and the Walt Disney World. Eventually, a judge ordered the county to put the measure on next year’s ballot.

However, if HB 655 passes in the Senate as well, the result of that vote would be moot.

Republicans in the House voted in favor of the bill because they said they were protecting Florida businesses, the Orlando Sentinel reports:

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.”

… “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.”

House Democrats called the move a “power grab” and said the state GOP was “abusing their power.”

A significant difference between the House bill and the one awaiting consideration in the Senate is that the House bill also goes after an ordinance in Miami-Dade County that enforces a living wage for workers.

According to the Miami Herald:

Those [living wage] ordinances require companies that contract with the county to pay wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage, and sometimes provide certain benefits.

If HB 655 is signed into law, those “living wage” ordinances would be preempted by the state. That means workers in Miami-Dade County currently earning $12 or more per hour under the living wage law could see their pay drop down to the statewide minimum wage of $7.79 per hour.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, slammed the bill as a “slash-and-burn” approach.

Anti-labor bills like this one aren’t just being passed in the Sunshine State. According to The Huffington Post, many states are considering or have already passed laws that would restrict local efforts to extend benefits to workers when companies refuse to do so.

A HuffPo post by Mary Bottari of Center for Media and Democracy reported:

Corporate-backed bills have passed at the state level in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Mississippi that would preempt (or as one GOP operative put it, “deliver the kill shot” to) local paid sick leave laws. Similar bills are on the legislative docket in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington. This paid sick leave preemption effort can be traced back to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) …

Precourt’s proposal actually goes further than Wisconsin’s bill by incorporating ALEC model legislation that would preempt local living wage requirements as well. (ALEC’s slate of bills promoting a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions for America’s workforce was recently detailed in a report by the National Employment Law Project.)

Precourt attended the 2011 ALEC meeting where legislators were handed complete copies of Wisconsin’s 2011 Senate Bill 23. He reported receiving $487.38 from the corporate-funded “scholarship fund” to attend the 2011 ALEC meeting. According to documents released from the ALEC State Chair for Florida, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, Florida lawmakers’ attendance at ALEC’s 2011 annual conference in New Orleans was “one of the strongest delegations in years.”

The Sentinel reported previously that the Precourt — and the Florida Senate bill’s sponsor, David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs — said “they worked with companies such as Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants to draft their bills because they want statewide uniformity in wage and benefit rules.”

The Senate version of the bill still faces consideration in that more moderate chamber.

Simmon’s Senate sick-time bill was expected to be watered down — and perhaps include some allowance for unpaid sick time — but so far that hasn’t happened. In fact, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the vote only happened because Simmons removed his “concession to workers that would have set a statewide standard of five unpaid days off for full-time employees.”