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Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward

A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—narrowly passed the Local & Federal Affairs Committee in the House on Tuesday.

The bill, HB 1125, is the latest in a multiyear attempt by the business lobby to outlaw local laws that govern the act of “wage theft,” or employers refusing to pay employees. The push has failed in previous years, and a judge upheld Miami-Dade’s program last year.

This year, the business lobby is hoping a less aggressive approach will work. HB 1125 would grandfather in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while outlawing other counties from passing new “wage theft” ordinances.

Miami-Dade County created a program in 2010 to address wage theft, launching an administrative process that helps employees recover lost wages from their employers. The program has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages since it was created via ordinance in 2010. The Florida Retail Federation filed a lawsuit to challenge Miami-Dade’s program, but it was dismissed by a judge last year.

In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the bill would leave the ordinances intact. Any counties looking to enact wage theft ordinances in the future—including Alachua County—would be banned from doing so in the future.

The bill would force victims of wage theft to take their case to civil court, after giving their employer a “demand letter,” allowing them 15 days to pay the disputed amount. Courts could only award “economic damages,” and awards for punitive damages or repayment for attorneys fees would be prohibited. The bill also reduces the statute of limitations for wage theft claims from two years to one year.

There are several constitutional issues with the bill, according to the Legislature’s staff members. The bill reduces “access to courts” and therefore might be unconstitutional.

The business lobby came out in support of the bill, stating that it provides a “statewide solution” to the problem of wage theft.

Worker activists voiced their opposition, stating that employees lose millions of dollars each year to shady bosses who withhold their pay.

The bill needs to pass one more committee before reaching the floor of the House.