The Republican majority on the state House Judiciary committee voted Thursday to support House Bill 241, which would render useless local wage theft ordinances that help workers who have been stiffed of their earned wages by dishonest employers.

A statewide construction business coalition, the National Federation for Independent Businesses and the Florida Retail Federation (the latter of which has legally challenged the constitutionality of Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance) support the bill, filed by Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville.

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said at the hearing that this bill does not address the fact that state and federal anti-wage theft laws are insufficient, but rather goes after local governments that are trying to fill in that gap.

“We are left to duke theses cases out in federal court, which is vastly more expensive litigation,” he said. “I’ve defended and prosecuted these cases and what happens if the worker does get in court and does prove their claim is that the attorney fees provision eclipse any wages they were owed.”

Soto said we need to get workers out of federal — and, eventually, even local — courts, adding that this bill knocks back local governments trying to deal with the problem.

Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami, said that Miami-Dade’s ordinance does not create new law and doesn’t create different standards in different counties. What is does is create an administrative process to deal with wage theft in an expeditious and inexpensive way, out of court, avoiding expensive litigation.

Steinberg, echoing Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said Florida needs to create a statewide solution to resolve wage theft claims through a prompt, inexpensive process.

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, said he would support a bill to create a statewide solution for the next legislative session, but nevertheless voted yesterday in support of Goodson’s bill.

Goodson concluded the hearing by saying that Florida state law provides a remedy for minimum wage and overtime wage violations through the courts. He said these laws cover costs and attorney fees in favor of the plaintiff.

The Independent has reported that supporters of the existing Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance and proponents of the Palm Beach ordinance argue, among other issues, that part of the problem with wage theft cases is that the existing court process does not favor workers.

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