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Are Home-Rule Politics Just Too Pricey?

May 3, 2013 - 6:00pm

Sometimes it just doesnt pay to be consistent. At least, not when consistency could cost $3 billion.

Thats the annual figure Randall Holcombe, a Florida State University economist, determined a statewide paid sick leave law could cost Florida businesses.

But that scenario is unlikely, at least for one more year.

Orlando-area state Republicans Rep. Steve Precourt and Sen. David Simmons led the charge against government-mandated employee benefits all the way to the bitter end of this years legislative session.

Despite protests from labor groups and Democratic legislators, their efforts finally passed the Republican-dominated Legislature Thursday evening and culminated in a state law that pre-empts all local ordinances requiring private-sector employee benefits. The bill awaits Gov. Rick Scotts consideration.

Critics, like the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, claim the pre-emption bill is out of touch and hypocritical to the limited-government philosophy of home-rule politics.

Florida legislators who have no idea of the urban challenges we face in Miami-Dade County, are crafting laws to impoverish our working families. This is a local matter, best left to the local government, the organization said in a staff op-ed.

In a similar twist, Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel said April 26 during a Senate deliberation, The people should decide which direction local government will go.

Precourts House bill 655 effectively will block local governments from placing paid sick-leave mandates on businesses, though a Senate amendment on Thursday limited Precourts proposal to just one year.

Additionally, the amendment calls for a task force to study the issue and for the Legislature to decide whether to devise a statewide policy in 2014. Until then, all local mandates are off the table.

Its no coincidence that pro-business Republicans seemingly have taken a reverse course to their oft-professed limited government philosophy.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Central Florida heavyweights Darden Restaurants and Disney inspired the legislation after paid sick leave gained significant momentum last year in Miami-Dade County and Orange County.

The paid sick-leave trend spared fears of a local government domino effect, especially as well-funded multistate activist groups like the Restaurant Opportunities Center helped mobilize sympathetic voters with the goal of passing local ballot initiatives.

That has had businesses worried sick, and for good reason.

William Seyfried, a Rollins College economist, concluded that the economic impact of paid sick leave in Orange County alone would slap businesses with a $69.2 million additional annual expense.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association contends that a state law would offer the best solution.

If a business has locations in 30 counties in Florida, they could have 30 different rules to follow, a website statement says.

The Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces is partnered with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami, as is Citizens for a Greater Orange County. All are opposed to the state regulating local benefits laws.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center was formed to relocate displaced workers in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But ROCs initial mission has expanded to advancing labor-friendly measures across the country.

ROC has been fueled in part with taxpayer money and has a dubious history of using disruptive tactics to advance its agenda, even while fighting for employee benefits in non-unionized industries. Florida Watchdog contacted ROC Miami but did not receive a response.

Should government at any level issue employee benefit mandates for private businesses?

In a report called Preserve Freedom in Labor Contracts, Holcombe, the FSU economist, says no. Rather, employee benefits should be decided through the contract between employer and employee, not the government.

When local governments threaten to violate peoples right to freedom of contract, it is proper for the state government to prevent that, Holcombe said in an email to Florida Watchdog.

The Miami-Dade paid sick leave law requires only private businesses to comply with the benefit mandate while the local government itself is exempt.

Whats more, Holcombes research indicates associated costs dont just apply to businesses, but have a direct consequence to employees, as well.

Proponents of mandatory paid sick leave often assume that the cost of the mandate will be borne entirely by employers, but employees also bear a burden in the form of lower take-home pay.

Precourt did not return numerous requests for comment.

Contact William Patrick at

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