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Local government labor contracts bill narrowly cheats death

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State Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ SB 934, which preempts local governments from creating labor agreements with contractors containing certain wage, residency or diversity requirements, found an unlikely “No” vote in Senate Community Affairs this afternoon: Brandes himself.

The vote was part of a legislative maneuver undertaken by Brandes to bring his bill back from the dead.

After the bill was voted down by the committee on a 6-1 vote — state Sen. Rob Bradley casting the lone “Yea” — Brandes asked for a motion to reconsider the bill, which Chairman Wilton Simpson of Trilby granted. With the bill now up again for consideration, Brandes’ subsequent request to table the measure was granted, leaving the bill in a kind of legislative state of limbo in which, despite the committee’s disapproval, it could appear before the panel again.

The legislation provoked an outcry from labor and local governmental representatives who testified, as well as from members of the committee.

“I’ve seen, as we all have, lot of bills come through this process, and this in my personal opinion by far one of the worst,” said Democratic state Sen. Joe Abruzzo, adding that if he could, he would amend the bill to dub it the “Anti-Worker, Anti-Florida Family, Anti-Minority Anarchist Act of 2015.”

His remarks, though jarring, were not out of step with those of other testifiers including AFL-CIO‘s Rich Templin and labor lobbyist J.B. Clark, who considered it “in our view, the deepest erosion of local union powers and authorities that we’ve seen in a long, long time in a bill.”

State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami-Dade Republican with years of county government service, criticized the bill as well, chiding the bill’s abrogation of local authority and pointing out that according to staff analysis, the bill may contradict current state statute, creating legal confusion.

Brandes answered his critics by saying that while the bill would indeed do away with certain preferences for protected groups and give local governments less discretion over who performs local labor, it creates a more level playing field for construction firms vying for public contracts and gives the taxpayers a better deal.

“The free market is hard,” Brandes told committee members. “It’s hard.”

His bill simply reflects that fact, he said. Plus, it prevents rent-seeking behavior and corruption on the part of firms who use lobbyists to steer public dollars their way.

“It keeps the government in check, from crony capitalism, It keeps unions in check, it keeps business contractors in check. It makes them all compete. It makes them put up, or shut up.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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