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Florida lawmaker suggests 'training pay' to limit Florida's newly-passed $15 minimum wage

The Senator says the law would target people considered "hard to hire".
Credit: AP
FILE- In this Wednesday, June 3, 2020 photo, cashier Rosario Vargas, center, bags groceries for customers at the Presidente Supermarket in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Florida voters decide Tuesday whether to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years, which advocates say will benefit hundreds of thousands of workers in the Sunshine State's service-heavy economy but which opponents say will stifle industry growth. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 2, incrementally raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 5 years.

But, now State Senator Jeff Brandes (R) St. Petersburg is proposing an amendment to reduce that minimum wage for some people considered “hard to hire”.

“The goal here is to get people a foot in the door,” said Sen. Brandes.

Brandes says his idea to create a “training wage” in Florida is being mischaracterized.

“A training wage is not designed to be permanent,” said Brandes. “It’s designed to get employers to look at people that they might not otherwise be willing to look at. In order to raise them up, to get them to a place where they can get more than the minimum wage in the future and attain that job that they want.”

Brandes contends raising Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will lead to increased unemployment for certain groups of people considered “hard to hire,” including those under 21 who lack experience, felons, and prisoners in the state corrections system who employers might see as too risky to hire at $15 an hour.

“I have no doubt that people will look at this in a variety of different ways. My goal, and my intention, is to allow these groups who have radically higher unemployment rates to have access to a job,” said Brandes.

Brandes’ proposal was immediately blasted.

Florida’s Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz released a statement, calling the idea, “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,” said Diaz.

“It is ridiculous and discriminatory,” he added. “Floridians already voted by over 60% to increase the minimum wage to 15$ an hour. It is as simple as that.”

Low wage earners like Fran Marion, who works at McDonald’s, worries it could undermine what she sees as a brighter future for her and her kids.

“Roof over our heads. Food on our table. Healthcare. And, money to send them to college,” said Marion. “Too many of us, especially black and brown workers on the front lines of this pandemic have been left behind.”

Brandes’ proposal has also gotten the attention of high-powered attorney John Morgan, who spent $6 million of his own money getting Amendment 2 passed in November. In a statement, Morgan repeated what he said then about any attempts to undo the vote.

“If the legislature continues to subvert the will of the people with this naked attempt to replace working families with child labor, I will sue the state. And I will win – again,” said Morgan.

Brandes says his proposal would not undermine the will of Florida voters, because his idea to amend Amendment 2 would not be passed by a bill in the legislature, but rather placed on the ballot, requiring voter approval in the year 2022.

“I understand there are positive implications for raising the minimum wage for certain people,” said Brandes. “I also understand that there are negative implications and we are simply trying to address the negative implications in a transparent and reasonable way that many other states and the federal government already recognized and utilized, which is this training wage concept.”