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What's in store for Florida's 2013 legislative session

Legislators prepare to duke it out over more of the same: abortion, workers' rights, education, voting issues and campaign finance reform

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"It's not shocking that two guys from Central Florida who get all of their money from the corporations that are trying to kill sick time are the ones who are then trying to kill sick time," Organize Now executive director Stephanie Porta says. "So they wrote a 'kill shot' to the Orange County community that followed the rules and petitioned their government. So, this is about disenfranchising voters again." (The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, utility groups and Associated General Contractors have all endorsed the bills.)

Simmons' bill, SB 726, subtitled "Regulation of Family or Medical Leave Benefits for Employees," gives the illusion of allowing employees statewide five days of unpaid sick leave without fear of termination, five days for doctor appointments and one emergency leave day, all requiring a note from a physician. It also forbids counties and cities from making their own rules on the matter.

"This proposal forces workers – many of whom do not have health insurance – to seek costly and often unnecessary certifications from health providers for basic illnesses that do not warrant a doctor's visit," Porta says. "And it could require employees to participate in wellness or preventive care programs, which could mean additional costs to employees."

Another potentially adverse effect, says Porta, is that it could actually limit the number of unpaid days off that anybody could have to five, which could have broader implications.

But it's Precourt's bill that could do the most damage. HB 655, called "Political Subdivisions," takes the violation of county rule even further. Under this bill, all local wage and benefits ordinances would become obsolete, including living wage laws that are presently utilized in city of Orlando contracts and in Miami-Dade County and Broward County, among others (the city of Orlando is "monitoring" the bill, according to spokeswoman Heather Fagan). Though the bill does make exceptions for federal grant money that requires certain wage provisions, anything else is fair game.

"There are domestic violence protections and sick time, along with other things that they don't even know," Porta says. "They have no idea what they're pre-empting. They haven't even come up with a list of all the laws that they're pre-empting, because they don't even know." The bill passed its first committee along party lines on Feb. 20, but behind the scenes (according to Porta) that was with the understanding that a carve-out amendment would be provided to preserve Miami-Dade's living-wage provisions. The Local and Federal Affairs committee chairman, state Rep. Eduardo Gonzalez, R-Hialeah Gardens, reportedly made that clear in the hearing. But even that seems unlikely.

"Some counties, like Miami-Dade, are so large that their ordinances are really distorting the current economy and there is a need for uniformity," Precourt told the committee, according to the Miami Herald.

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