Happytown: State House wants to block sick-time ordinances 

Florida House votes in favor of bill that would pre-empt sick time ordinances by invalidating them before they pass at local level

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$160 BILLION
ESTIMATED COST TO THE NATIONAL ECONOMY WHEN PEOPLE SHOW UP TO WORK SICK; 40 MILLION AMERICAN WORKERS HAVE NO ACCESS TO SICK TIME

75 PERCENT
NATIONAL PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR A LAW GUARANTEEING A MINIMUM NUMBER OF PAID SICK DAYS FOR EMPLOYEES

1
NUMBER OF COUNTIES IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA CONSIDERING AN EARNED SICK-TIME ORDINANCE (ORANGE COUNTY), PROMPTING THE FLORIDA HOUSE TO PASS A STATEWIDE PRE-EMPTION BILL, HB 655, ON APRIL 4

 

“YOU’RE ABUSING THE PROCESS HERE. … THE ONLY REASON YOU’RE DOING IT IS BECAUSE YOU CAN. APPARENTLY WHAT WE ARE DOING RIGHT NOW IS SAYING THAT ALL POLITICS IS NOT LOCAL.”
– REP. JIM WALDMAN, D-COCONUT CREEK, ON THE HOUSE FLOOR

SOURCES: National Partnership for Women and Families, myfloridahouse.gov

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

Ever since last year’s Orange County imbroglio, in which the County Commission ignored more than 50,000 local petitions asking the county to put an earned sick-time initiative on the ballot, the writing has been on the wall – and sometimes on the tablet or smart phone. Chambercrats in Tallahassee were going to deliver the “kill shot” to prevent any such popular uprising from ever happening again (partially, perhaps, because local leaders would likely be too busy defending their poor texting habits in court). Hell, even Mayor Teresa Jacobs delivered a cleverly choreographed olive-branch dance (following a court order) indicating that the sick-time measure would finally make it onto the county’s primary ballot in August 2014, even though she supported the pre-emptive House Bill 655 and its author, state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, which would have prevented counties from passing such ordinances in the first place.

On April 4, in an absurd bit of political theater, the Florida House of Representatives approved the pre-emption bill by a margin of 75-43. During floor debate, Republicans argued against something that wasn’t even happening – a statewide sick-time measure – leaving most of them looking like wealthy dogs chasing their nonexistent tails. When they weren’t doing that, they were arguing against a “patchwork” of municipal regulations that would be confusing to “small businesses.” In other words, they were railing against home rule, something that several Democrats called them on, considering that many of the politicians grew their political legs while serving in municipal offices. How soon they forget!

That collective amnesia, however, isn’t any kind of excuse, nor is it necessarily true. As the folks at the Center for Media and Democracy pointed out in a Huffington Post piece on April 3, the bones of the pre-emption bill came from our friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nefarious conservative modeling (or model bill) agency funded by the people who make their money off the sweaty backs of those who flip burgers for cheap. Precourt, naturally, attended one of ALEC’s hate retreats in 2011 where he must have seen the pre-emption legislation that ALEC borrowed from cuddly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Pepper that with a little bit of financial pressure (and lobbying) from the chamber of commerce, Darden Restaurants and Disney – outspoken foes of the local ordinance last year – throw in some malfeasance from county commissioners like Ted Edwards (“The legislature can deliver the kill shot,” Edwards texted during the September county meeting last year), and throw it under the heating lamp. Boom, legislation.

The only Democrat to vote in favor of the bill was state Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, who happens to be the niece of commissioner Edwards. Lady Edwards, who is the House sponsor of the medical marijuana bill, insisted on her Facebook page that her vote had nothing to do with her uncle.

“Nobody tells me how to vote,” she wrote after being called on the matter.

So what does it all mean for sick time in Orange County? Well, that’s unclear for now. A Senate companion doesn’t go nearly as far into the pre-emption hole, and Precourt’s bill – which would also roll back Miami-Dade county’s living-wage law and could potentially see workers have their hourly pay cut from $12.08 per hour to $7.50 per hour – is a little too far-reaching to be taken seriously. Most of the state’s counties would have to amend their business models and bidding practices in order to match the bill’s implied race to the bottom. And as sick-time proponent and Organize Now director Stephanie Porta points out, there hasn’t exactly been a groundswell of support from citizens. Most of those speaking in Tallahassee in favor of the bill during its committee stage were big business interests. Not one mom-and-pop or small businessperson, she says. So it’s onward and upward, then.

“We are going to fight,” Porta says. “We believe that people and democracy still matter more than corporations.”

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