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Public Projects Bill Advances, Jeopardizing Local Wage, Benefit Rules

Jonathan Kos-Read via flickr

Florida lawmakers want to preempt local ordinances for projects that get mostly state funding. Despite a litany of complaints from cities and counties, the bill is now heading to the Senate floor.

Local governments have spent years creating an environment they think will protect workers and encourage businesses. They set their own minimum wages or require public contractors to offer benefits. Matthew Land represents the Southeast Laborer’s District Council. He says Miami-Dade County prioritizes hiring workers who need it most.

“The [Employ Miami-Dade] program is a partnership between the public sector and the private sector that works to recruit people that are unemployed and living in low income zipcodes with high levels of unemployment throughout the county. It provides them with basic construction training and then works with the private sector to place them into jobs that hopefully turn into construction careers,” Land said.

But Gainesville Republican Senator Keith Perry wants to block those local mandates for projects that get fifty percent or more of their funds from the state.

“And it’s not simply the fact that they would make you comply with those, it’s the fact that your compliance would take away from you doing your job. Because now you have incredible amounts of paperwork,” Perry said.

"Your compliance would take away from you doing your job. Because now you have incredible amounts of paperwork."

Perry says rolling back these rules for mostly state-funded construction and infrastructure jobs would make room for small contractors.

“My business is large enough where we don’t particularly care for the mandates, but we can do it. But the young person starting out, the worker that wants to start their own business, it makes it very difficult for them,” Perry said.

Municipalities say that’s why they passed ordinances to favor local companies and workers in the first place.

But Carol Bowen says the bill would only affect a fraction of public projects. She represents the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida.

“And in fact we’ve done some additional research and spoken to about four or five different local governments. We’ve asked how often this bill would impact them. They believe that maybe ten to fifteen percent of the time," Bowen said. “That means that no matter what you hear about today, local governments retain the right to do what they want eighty-five to ninety percent of the time.”

"These are ordinances that counties have thoughtfully put together, not because they thought it would be a neat idea. It's because the community came to them and asked for this."

Eric Poole is with the Florida Association of Counties. He says the state shouldn’t interfere with local control as a matter of principle.

“These are ordinances that counties have thoughtfully put together, not because they thought it would be a neat idea. It’s because the community came to them and asked for this. They have public workshops. They have public hearings before they ever adopt these ordinances. So whether it’s five percent, ten percent, for us it’s all the same,” Poole said.

Home rule is becoming somewhat of a rallying cry this session. City and county officials are calling foul on what they say is an assault on local government. And the issue resonates with Orange Park Republican Senator Rob Bradley.

“We don’t need to be micro-managing the business of local government. They are closer than Tallahassee to the needs of their particular community,” Bradley said.

But if the majority of the funding comes from the state, Bradley says the state should call the shots.

“I think that that is a significant enough of a state interest in the matter that we need to set the policy in a manner that is consistent with…how we would like to see these dollars spent,” Bradley said.

Enough of Bradley’s colleagues agreed Thursday, sending the bill to the Senate floor. The House approved a companion measure earlier this week.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.