Public works bill advances in House

by | Feb 28, 2024

The Florida House of Representatives passed legislation to standardize the procurement process for public works projects, potentially streamlining local government and contractor operations by centralizing standards and limiting local mandates on living wages and local labor hiring.

The Florida House of Representatives voted favorably on a bill Thursday that seeks to standardize the procurement process for public works projects across the state, potentially altering how local governments and contractors operate.

The bill, spearheaded by the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee and Rep. Jason Shoaf, proposes to redefine public works projects to include those funded by both state and local governments, thereby broadening the state’s authority over such projects. If adopted, the bill would streamline the procurement process across the state by imposing a uniform standard that precludes local governments from setting specific requirements for contractors.

Stipulations in the bill would effectively limit the capacity of local governments to set specific conditions for contractors, such as mandating the payment of living wages or the hiring of local labor, putting in place a standardized procurement process for public works projects. Proponents of the bill, namely Republicans, argued during debate deliberations that this will encourage more competitive bidding and reduce costs.

“These policies are designed to enrich the local unions on the backs of the taxpayers,” Shoaf said in reference to current procurement processes. “These programs that they say are going to be cut are union programs that pour more money into the Union coffers. The jobs that get these artificial wages are union jobs. They’re not going to your small mom and pop businesses. We’re just trying to bring back the free market to the state of Florida.”

The bill was been met with opposition from some Democrat lawmakers who expressed concerns about its implications for depressed worker wages and local autonomy.

“This bill not only preempts local governments but it very well will result in workers being paid less for their labor,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani. “And I know we love to talk about the free market a lot in this chamber. But I also want to be clear that the free market doesn’t always look out for the little guy. And a lot of cases is driven by profit.”

Rep. Robin Bartleman raised further concerns about the bill’s impact on local government autonomy, arguing that the state should uphold the preservation of local governments’ rights to make decisions that best serve their communities. She additionally question the free market justification used to support the bill, suggesting that if contractors are unwilling to meet local wage and apprenticeship standards, they should not bid on projects.

“This is not about helping corporations,” she said.” Nobody forces anyone to bid on work. There is plenty of work all across Florida for these contractors to bid on. If my Broward County wants to have a living wage to protect their people so that they can afford to live there … then don’t bid. But to take away power from local communities is wrong.”

An identical companion bill, filed by Sen. Erin Grall, is awaiting a vote in the Senate.


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