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DeSantis signs 'inhumane' bill removing local power over worker wages, heat protections

A group of people stand with flags and signs.
Wilfredo Lee
Members of WeCount, an organization of outdoor workers demanding workplace protections against extreme heat, chant before a news conference, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami.

TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a controversial bill that will prevent local governments from imposing wage requirements on contractors and requiring heat-exposure protections for workers.

DeSantis’ office announced the signing of the bill (HB 433), along with nine other measures passed during this year’s legislative session, in a news release Thursday night.

The heat and wage restriction bill was backed by business groups and underwent a series of changes in the closing days of the session. It received final approval from the House and Senate on March 8, the final day of the session.

Bill Herrle, Florida director of the National Federation of Independent Business, issued a statement Thursday night that said the bill will help “create a stable environment where owners can grow their businesses.”

"Small business owners don’t have the time or the resources to navigate a confusing and contradictory array of local ordinances that go beyond (what) the state already mandates,” Herrle said.

But more than 90 organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Farmworker Association of Florida and the NAACP Florida State Conference signed on to letters to DeSantis opposing the bill and seeking a veto. The measure is known as a “preemption” bill, as it would take away authority from local governments.

“Floridians feel it getting hotter and understand how difficult and dangerous it is to labor in the sun and heat,” opponents said in an April 2 letter. “Preempting local governments’ ability to protect workers from climate-caused extreme heat is inhumane and will have enormous negative economic impacts when lost productivity is taken into account.”

The part of the bill dealing with heat restrictions came after the Miami-Dade County Commission last year considered a proposal to require construction and agriculture companies to take steps such as ensuring that workers have access to water and giving them 10-minute breaks in the shade every two hours when the heat index is at least 95 degrees, according to a House staff analysis.

Also, the bill would prevent local governments from directing wages paid by contractors. The statewide minimum wage is $12 an hour and will increase to $13 an hour on Sept. 30. Under a 2020 constitutional amendment, the minimum wage will continue to rise to $15 an hour in 2026 and be adjusted annually for inflation starting in 2027.

During the legislative session, the bill’s opponents said preventing local governments from imposing higher wage requirements on contractors would effectively mean workers in some areas of the state will face pay cuts.

But House sponsor Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, argued that the bill would save tax dollars and that businesses should be able to determine the wages of workers. Supporters also pointed to the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration being able to take actions against employers related to worker heat exposure.

“Employers have a vested interest in taking care of their employees, and we see that through the actions that they take,” Esposito said.

Among the other bills signed Thursday were a measure (HB 201) that will increase the amount of insulin that pharmacists can dispense in emergency refills to patients and a measure (SB 968) that will designate property at Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County and property within the former boundaries of Homestead Air Force Base in Miami-Dade County as “spaceport” territory.

Supporters said the spaceport bill could help boost the aerospace industry, make the state more attractive to supply-chain companies and insulate areas from federal decisions that could affect bases.

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