March 25, 2021

Immigration and Labor Bills to Watch in 2021

As with most state legislative sessions, there is a mix of positive legislation — inclusive measures that would remove barriers and allow every Floridian to fully contribute to society and support a stronger state economy — and harmful bills, or ones that would create additional hurdles. Below are the top four to watch relating to worker justice and immigration issues.

1. Authorizing the Legislature to set a subminimum wage for returning citizens, under-21 workers, and other “hard-to-hire” groups

Florida Policy Institute (FPI) opposes SJR 854/HJR 1485, which would ask voters to authorize the Legislature to set a lower minimum wage for the above groups. “Hard-to-hire” is not defined, so any number of groups who already struggle to find meaningful work and pay could find themselves earning subpar wages indefinitely. FPI found that by the time the state’s $15 wage phases in, these resolutions would put more than 3 in 4 young Florida workers at risk of being paid a subminimum wage, take a collective $1.47 billion out of young workers’ pockets in lost wages, and cost the state $112 million in annual sales tax revenue. Moreover, it would negatively impact 1.5 million formerly-incarcerated Floridians, given that more than 1 in 4 already struggle to find work and have years of lost wages to recoup. 

2. Removing proof of citizenship as a driver’s license application requirement

For over a decade, numerous organizations (businesses, service providers, faith leaders) and many immigrants have pushed for an inclusive driver’s license policy. FPI has also argued that the 320,000 driving-age, undocumented immigrants already living and working in the state should be trained and licensed to drive just like U.S.-born Floridians. Sixteen states plus D.C. have enacted inclusive driver’s license laws. If Florida follows suit by enacting SB 1848/HB 1415, the roads would be safer, insurance premiums would be modestly reduced, immigrants could commute without fear, and the state could expect $68 million in added sales tax revenue within the first three years of implementation. 

3. Reestablishing a Department of Labor to enforce the minimum wage and related laws

The Legislature dismantled the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security (DOLES) in 2002, delegating many of its responsibilities to agencies like the Department of Economic Opportunity. This restructuring left Florida without a single person in state government to implement the state’s wage and hour laws through administrative enforcement and only the Attorney General’s Office to enforce such laws through non-administrative means. Administrative enforcement is a means for investigating and remedying statutory violations for all aggrieved workers, but without the complexity, cost, and time of a lawsuit. FPI and Rutgers University’s joint report found that the sole enforcement authority — the Florida Attorney General’s Office — has failed to take a single enforcement action against any employer who failed to pay the minimum wage since 2011. This wage theft has hit Black, Latina, and immigrant Floridians especially hard. Moreover, average violation rates spiked after Florida increased its minimum wage in 2005, which is likely to recur when the minimum wage again increases to $10 this September. Reintroducing a State DOL — as SB 1726/HB 1457 seeks to do — equipped with the authority and resources necessary to address wage theft would mitigate this.

4. Repeal of ban on “sanctuary cities”

In 2019, Florida passed SB 168, preventing local municipalities from acting as “sanctuary cities,” or local areas with law enforcement that has declined to detain immigrants on behalf of federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or otherwise cooperate directly with federal immigration enforcement. FPI and its partners argued against SB 168, as it drives fear in immigrants and places an undue burden on local authorities who are not equipped to enforce federal immigration law. Florida does not currently have any sanctuary cities, but the ban persists. A lawsuit challenging the sanctuary cities ban is currently underway, but  2021 bills (SB 1706, SB 1928, and HB 6089) aim to repeal the harmful ban now.  

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