A bill filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that would prohibit Florida cities and counties from passing ordinances that crack down on wage theft, the practice of stiffing workers out of money they are owed, did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary committee Monday.
State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, filed the House version of the bill, which passed a first committee vote in early December, and a second vote in a House subcommittee in early January.
On Monday, the Senate committee approved an amendment to the bill that, according to Simmons, “provides a uniform statewide solution to the issue of non-payment of wages to an employee.”
The chair of the committee — state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — introduced a handwritten amendment that would exempt Miami-Dade County’s wage theft program from the Simmons’ bill. Simmons initially opposed Flores’ amendment “because it allows Miami-Dade to create a judicial system,” but quickly accepted the change.
Flores added that the committee “will work with the sponsor to get it withdrawn from the committee,” and ended the meeting.
The Miami Herald reported that “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.”
Jeanette Smith of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force attended the committee meeting and tells The Florida Independent that if the bill is withdrawn, “it can move forward to its final committee, which is [the] Government Oversight committee.”
Smith added that Simmons’ amendment allows local government to create a type of conciliatory function, which is part of Miami-Dade’s wage theft ordinance. “But that is all it could do,” she says, “and other than that the only thing anybody could do was go to court.”
The Simmons amendment also states that a worker must notify the employer in writing of the “employee’s intent to initiate a claim” of wage theft, and that the claim “shall be tried before the court and not before a jury.”
The Miami-Dade County anti-wage theft ordinance has a resolution process for wage theft claims outside of the court system. Supporters of the measure say it can help prevent employers from cheating workers out of pay they are owed by allowing workers to make claims without having to hire a lawyer.
Opponents of Simmons’ bill have also pointed out that filing a claim in court can take up to eight to 10 months and cost anywhere from $80 to $330, “which is nowhere near a reality for a struggling low-wage earner.”