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On wage theft bill, Dade delegation splits along party lines

On a wage theft bill that involves a top legislative priority for Miami-Dade County, the Dade delegation of lawmakers broke up along party lines.

Democrats from Miami-Dade County were outspoken against the bill, HB 609, which would kill the county’s wage theft prevention program. The county commission has lobbied to save the program it created in 2010.

Most of the county’s 10 Republican representatives were silent during the hour of floor debate that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach, called out the Miami-Dade County lawmakers for not protecting the county.

“I want to make sure that every one of my colleagues from the Dade delegation hears this,” said Garcia, before requesting a quorum call to have all lawmakers indicate their presence. “I don’t think it’s right. I’m addressing my fellow Dade Countians. We’ve got to go back and we’ve got to protect the people that sent us here.”

It was one of the most contentious bills heard during marathon House sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and several Democrats peppered the bill sponsor with a flurry of questions about the bill.

An amendment, filed by Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, would have shielded the Miami-Dade ordinance from being included in the bill by giving the county grandfather status.

Republicans, including the 10 that have constituents in Miami-Dade, voted against Stafford’s amendment, and it failed.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami and Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, were two South Florida Republicans who spoke out against their county’s wage theft ordinance.

“I came up here to represent the people of Miami-Dade, and the business of Miami-Dade, not the county commissioners,” said Gonzalez.

Said Trujillo: “If you review our Florida Constitution, Miami-Dade County…[doesn’t] have the right to start quasi-administrative judicial boards.” 

A South Florida court is currently deciding on whether the county’s program—which has recovered more than $1 million in unpaid wages for employees—is unconstitutional. HB 609 would effectively preempt that court case by quashing Miami-Dade’s program.

At the same time, HB 609’s companion bill has stalled in the Senate—in part, thanks to Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores—so the Dade delegation may have been just saving its breath on a dead bill.

It passed the House on a 77-38 vote, with all 10 Miami-Dade Republicans voting in support.