Miami-Dade’s wage-theft protection program survives in Legislature, for now


Miami-Dade’s wage-theft protection program survives in Legislature, for now

A bill that would ban Miami-Dade County from running a wage-theft prevention program failed to clear a committee stop on Monday.

BY TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA
HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU

A proposal that would have killed Miami-Dade County’s wage-theft protection program failed to pass a key committee in the Florida Legislature on Monday, after the bill sponsor and a Miami lawmaker butted heads and the clock ran out.

SB 862, which would ban counties and cities from enacting wage-theft prevention ordinances, stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the meeting ended before the measure faced a vote.

Miami-Dade’s program offers employees a county-based claims process to recover wages from an employer who fails to pay them an agreed-upon amount. The program has recovered more than $400,000 in unpaid wages since it was created by ordinance in 2010, a study by Florida International University found.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, would ban counties from running wage protection programs and force employees to go through the expensive court process to claim unpaid wages.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who chairs the committee, used a pen to scrawl out an amendment to the bill that would exempt Miami-Dade County from the ban.

At first, Simmons was reluctant to accept the amendment, stating, “I have a problem with it because it still permits Miami-Dade County to do that which I think is inappropriate — and that is to create a judicial system.” Critics of the county’s program have called it an unofficial court system.

Flores reiterated her support for the Miami-Dade exemption, and Simmons had a change of heart.

“I accept the amendment,” he said, less than a minute after expressing his opposition.

Despite Simmons’ compromise, the amended bill was unable to clear the committee when time ran out and Flores ended the meeting before lawmakers could take a vote. The meeting started late because flight delays made Flores tardy, and a lengthy debate over a bill to fast-track the state’s foreclosures left little time for the wage-theft bill to be heard.

While the bill’s failure in Monday’s committee meeting dealt it a major blow, Miami-Dade’s wage theft prevention program is not yet in the clear. There’s a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, and procedural moves could allow the bill to skip the normal committee process and advance straight to the floor for a full vote.

“Leadership can always do whatever leadership wants, they can always pull it to the floor,” said Jeannette Smith, director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice . “It sounds like at this point what Simmons is considering is withdrawing it from the Judiciary [Committee] so that it can be heard in its next committee.”

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