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Precourt pushes bill to eliminate 'living wage' laws, snaring South Florida

Miami Dade and Broward counties would have their decades-old living wage ordinances repealed and local governments would be banned from enacting similar employment benefits under a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee.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, not only would preempt the laws in the state’s most populous counties and in cities such as Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville, but it would ban Precourt’s home county, Orange, from enacting a sick time 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 ability of the state to generate jobs.

But opponents countered that the laws, which have been on the books in some cases for 14 years, have actually stabilized employment and helped businesses.

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 of the AFL-CIO.

The ordinances require that certain businesses that sign contracts with the county agree to pay their workers a “living wage” 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 and 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.

But Randall Holcomb, a researcher with the free market think tank, the James Madison Institute, 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 quietly 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.

Willie Bailey of Miami Dade 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.