Management & Labor

Florida Blocks Local Votes on Mandatory Paid-Sick-Time Measures

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that would block local governments from enacting mandatory paid-sick-time measures, such as the one pending in Orange County.
June 18, 2013

By David Damron and Aaron Deslatte

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that would block local governments from enacting mandatory paid-sick-time measures, such as the one pending in Orange County.

The Republican governor sided with Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and a broad array of powerful business interests that argued the ban was needed to avoid a patchwork of local employment rules for companies.

"This bill fosters statewide uniformity, consistency and predictability in Florida's employer-employee relationships," Scott said in a statement. "These fundamental elements are essential to ensuring a business-friendly environment that supports job creation."

Labor and progressive groups have made recent pushes for mandatory paid sick time in Orange and Miami-Dade counties to help out lower-paid workers who don't often get that benefit. Businesses mostly opposed to the idea say it overreaches into a company's affairs and should be left to the market.

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The governor made the decision in rapid fashion. Scott's office took only four of the 15 days he had to legally review the bill before signing it -- which supporters said showed he wasn't concerned about potential political blow back from activists who called the measure an attack on the working class and women.

"He believes that it's important to our recovering economy and increasing jobs that he affirm the importance of this legislation," said the bill's Senate sponsor, David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. "We simply do not need an inconsistent patchwork of regulation from one city to the next or one county to the next."

Scott rejected calls by progressives and South Florida leaders for him to veto it. With other parts of the country, such as New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, passing similar sick-time measures, it's an issue that now has a national scope.

In Florida, it could be used by Democrats as a political weapon next year. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, asked for a veto this week, noting the bill hit women hardest because they are more often unable to call in sick or care for ill children.

"The fight for earned sick time will continue," said Stephanie Porta of Organize Now in a statement. "Floridians believe in earned sick time for hardworking families, and we don't give up when we believe in something."

Organize Now had led the coalition of groups that backed the 2012 ballot referendum in Orange County. They teamed with Democrats, Hispanics and others to collect more than 50,000 petition signatures from voters to get it on the local ballot.

But after intense lobbying by Disney, Darden, Mears Transportation and other potent tourism interests, Orange commissioners on Sept. 11 voted 4-3 to keep it off the ballot. The groups behind it sued, and a judicial panel later ruled county leaders violated their charter by blocking it.

The three-judge circuit panel ordered it on the next ballot. Commissioners soon after voted to send it to Orange voters in the August 2014 primary contest.

But those who opposed the measure from the beginning had discussed such a delay-and-kill plan.

On the eve of the Orange County Sept. 11 vote, local GOP leader Lew Oliver texted a commissioner that the board only needed to delay the proposal long enough for the Legislature to deliver a "kill shot."

The communications between commissioners and lobbyists triggered a criminal investigation and civil lawsuit over alleged open-record-law violations. They are both still pending.

But Scott likely pulled the trigger on a final "kill shot" by signing the bill Friday.

The bill the governor signed was sponsored by House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, D-Orlando, and Simmons. Precourt had pushed for legislation that would have rolled back other local measures, namely by targeting local living-wage ordinances on the books to require government projects pay higher wages in Orlando and some South Florida communities. Simmons only targeted local paid-sick-time rules.

The final bill that Scott signed includes a provision for a task force that would look at benefits and a possible statewide mandate for sick leave.

The proposal pushed in Orange would have -- were it approved -- required employers to provide paid time off to workers who are ill or caring for a sick family member.

Both full- and part-time employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 37 hours they work, to a maximum of 56 hours annually. Employers with fewer than 15 workers would not have to provide sick pay but could not penalize workers who took unpaid time off for being sick.

Proponents said it would improve workplace performance and drive down health costs. Opponents said it would hurt profits, drive off new business expansions into Florida and kill jobs.

"Protecting small businesses and jobs from union mandates that drive up costs makes Florida more competitive," Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber said in a statement.

"Florida businesses cannot survive with competing regulations on a county by county basis and this legislation now allows for a level playing field for job creation and expansion," Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a statement.

Scott's office said four times as many emails arrived to him urging a veto the bill; 28 phone callers asked him to sign it, while more than 1,025 phoned in suggesting he reject it.

Simmons called the new law a compromise that will allow all sides to review the policy ramifications during the next year through a task force that will report back to the Legislature next spring on whether to adopt a statewide sick-leave policy.

"Everyone will have their voices heard," he said. "Let's face it: This legislation is needed for the economic recovery of Florida."

Organize Now indicated Friday that the law could face a constitutional challenge for violating home rule powers -- and that the issue is not dead in Orange County.

"We will also explore legal remedies to ensure voters in Orange County aren't denied their right to vote on earned sick time," Porta said.

(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel

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