Senator’s proposal to restrict last year’s minimum wage increase amendment draws criticism

Workers demonstrated in Fort Lauderdale in support of a $15 minimum wage in 2019. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A state constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters last year faces push-back by a Senate Republican who wants to prevent felons, young people, and other “hard to hire” people from receiving the $15 minimum wage set to take effect through 2026.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, who represents part of Pinellas County and is the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, filed a joint resolution Wednesday that would allow the Legislature to reduce pay for a variety of “hard-to-hire” employees.

The bill summary states that it would “authorize the Legislature to provide a reduced minimum wage rate for prisoners in the state correctional system, for employees convicted of a felony, for employees under 21 years of age, and for other hard-to-hire employees.”

“It has always been a mystery to me to understand why a teenager or formerly incarcerated is better off unemployed at $15 an hour than employed at $10,” Brandes said on Twitter.

FL Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Credit: Colin Hackley

The proposal (SJR 854) would permit the Legislature to help struggling workers find employment using a “training wage” to start off with until they gain more experience. The voters would have to approve the idea as an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, advocates for higher wages celebrated a victory in the November general election when voters in the state narrowly approved Amendment 2 on the ballot.

However, ballot initiatives in the past have run into trouble, even after voters overwhelmingly approved them. For instance, more than 71 percent of Florida voters passed the medical marijuana amendment in 2016 but it took time to implement it under then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Similarly, the GOP-dominated Legislature attached financial obligations to the felon-re-enfranchising amendment voters approved in 2018. A federal appeal court upheld the restriction.

Meanwhile, Brandes’ new proposal drew criticism from top Democrats and Florida attorney John Morgan, sponsor and chairman of the Florida For A Fair Wage, a political committee that collected enough signatures to place the wage hike on the ballot in 2020.

“Many in Florida still hope for slave wages. The initiative was clear and unambiguous. The people heard all the arguments and spoke loud and clear,” Morgan said in a Twitter post on Thursday.

“Just another example of why politicians are hated. Politicians suck!!”

Ben Pollara, campaign manager of Florida For A Fair Wage, told the Phoenix in a telephone interview that those state lawmakers supporting the proposal are “mean and they don’t have basic respect for the people of Florida.”

“Obviously, it’s disgraceful. I hope that Floridians don’t see it on their ballot,” he added. “I can’t imagine this making its way to the light of day.”

In a written statement on Friday, Florida Democratic Chair Manny Diaz called the proposal “ridiculous and unnecessary,” adding that “it is not the Republicans’ job to limit the minimum wage increase for populations they apparently deem unworthy.”

“This bill is just another example of Republicans deciding that the will of the people is not enough and that they are entitled to clarify and limit the parameters of a duly passed amendment. It is not the Republicans’ job to limit the minimum wage increase for populations they apparently deem unworthy. … Floridians already voted by over 60 percent to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It is as simple as that,” Diaz said.

He added that Brandes didn’t “clarify” who those “hard to hire employees are.”

“Instead of taking steps to disenfranchise people, the Republican representatives should focus their energy on things Floridians actually need like, COVID relief and a remedy for the broken unemployment system,” Diaz said.

As it stands now, Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $10 per hour on Sept. 30. Each Sept. 30 thereafter, it will rise by $1.00 per hour until it reaches $15 per hour on that date in 2026.

From that point forward, future minimum wage increases will be pegged to the inflation rate.