Contrarian or Contradictory?: The Sentinel's auspicious flip-flop on sick time



Things got a little dirty last night when the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board posted its sand-kicking opinion on Florida House Bill 655, and things also got a little more confusing. The anti-sick-time bill currently rests on Gov. Rick Scott's desk and is, regardless of logic or compassion or 11,000 petitions delivered in strollers asking for a veto, expected to be signed into law by the June 25 deadline. Fine, we guess. But just yesterday, on its Political Pulse blog, the Sentinel was illustrating the wave of support from other newspapers across the state for a veto of the bill, while simultaneously indicating that the local newspaper of record – the one which has spent the better part of a year investigating the shenanigans surrounding the county sick time bill – had yet to form an institutional opinion on the matter. Hmm. The Tampa Bay Times asked the governor to "stand with workers" two days ago; the Miami Herald argued in favor of letting local democracy decide for itself; the Tallahassee Democrat said the state was overstepping its bounds with the measure; even the Sentinel's Tribune sister the Sun-Sentinel called HB 655 a "horrendous state grab for local control."

Of course, today the Sun-Sentinel reprinted the Orlando Sentinel piece, so it's even that much more confusing.

The Sentinel, which is currently under consideration to become a publicity arm for the Koch Brothers, decided to take a different route – one that seems to call their previous hard-nosed reporting on the matter into question. Did the Kochs already buy the Sentinel? Enquiring minds want to know. (You might have thought the same last year when a po-faced Sentinel ed board made the charming mistake of endorsing Mitt Romney ... how prophetic!) The Sentinel's swish of opinion goes something like this:

Sometimes there oughta be a law.

And other times there shouldn't, like when local communities start dictating benefits packages for private enterprise. It might feel good, but it's an overreach.

That's why Gov. Rick Scott should sign House Bill 655, despite the full-court press for a veto by progressive interests across the state.

The bill would prohibit individual cities and counties from imposing benefits requirements on businesses. It's a direct outgrowth of the petition drive in Orange County last year to let voters decide whether businesses with 15 employees or more should be required to provide paid sick leave each year.

County commissioners turned back the petitioners, but a panel of judges determined they had violated their own charter, giving them no choice but to put it on the ballot in 2014.

That provided a window of opportunity for the Legislature to deliver what local GOP leader Lew Oliver grotesquely described as the "kill shot" — a state law to derail the Orange County measure and make sure it didn't happen elsewhere in the future.

While their tactics were deplorable, the sick-time opponents are, from a policy standpoint, correct.

We're riding a slippery slope when voters in hundreds of cities and 67 counties across Florida get to tell everyone from Walmart to the local diner how many sick days they owe employees.

It's not hard to imagine moving from sick days to retirement benefits, ordering businesses to establish 401(k) plans so employees don't have to rely solely on Social Security in their retirements.

What about mandating three or four weeks of vacation to ensure families can spend enough time together?

OK, TIME OUT! True to the same boilerplate that created the Romney piece – "hey, we know this sucks, but we're going for it anyway" – Sentinel opinions editor Mike Lafferty (who admitted to writing this drivel in the story's comment section) surgically removes and then dismisses the argument's contentious underlying components in order to arrive at the pro-business conclusion he seems to be paid to look for. The methods that got us here might have been "deplorable" and handled "grotesquely," but, hey, who's going speak up for poor Walmart? Quick! Everyone! Race for the "slippery slope!"

Groups like make compelling arguments for the need for sick days so employees don't have to choose between coming to work ill or losing a day's pay.

And we agree that compassionate, responsible employers should, ideally, offer employees sick time. And vacation time. And other benefits to give employees a sense of security.

But most of these business decisions should be left to businesses, not to voters through popular referendum.

As a rule we favor local control. And the bill in front of Rick Scott has reasonable provisions that allow local governments to impose wage and benefit rules on companies doing business with the government, or companies that receive public subsidies.

But there are limits to everything, and the idea of cities and counties across Florida dictating the benefits offered by private enterprise exceeds those limits.

HB 655 includes a provision for a task force that would look at benefits and, we hope, give thoughtful consideration to a statewide mandate for sick leave. That would make more sense than a regulatory crazy quilt of mandated benefits that change from city limit to city limit.

The governor should sign the bill.

And this is the full argument? The notion that an editorial would dismiss the worth of a voter initiative – just like Orange County did – is plainly absurd, and the tone taken here is so patronizing that you might mistake it as a "I missed child support, so what!" consolation from a deadbeat dad. Yes, Mike, there are limits to everything, including the power of heavily incentivized corporations to control political discourse, especially on a local level. It should be noted that HB 655 was the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch-fed thinktank responsible for most people-hating statewide measures. So, if we're to put two and two together, we can only guess that some corporation – like maybe the one that has a portal on your own website and helped draft HB 655, or even the Kochs – put you up to this. Either that, or you're just trying to come off as against-the-grain contrarians while parroting the exact talking points used by the local legislators bought and sold to carry this legislation over the finish line. No matter the impetus, it makes the Sentinel – and, by turn, Orlando – look bad. Keep it up.


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