April 8, 2014. The Sun Sentinel.

A controversial “Workforce Investment Act” that requires county contractors to consider hiring felons, dropouts, homeless and other “hard to hire” people was passed Tuesday on a split vote by the Broward County Commission.

Commissioners debated for nearly three hours before voting 5-4 on a slightly weaker version of what Commissioner Dale Holness originally proposed.

The policy requires employers on major county contracts to make a “good faith effort” to give half the jobs to the “hard to hire,” economically disadvantaged or any job candidate from CareerSource Broward.

Voting yes were commissioners Holness, Tim Ryan, Kristin Jacobs, Marty Kiar and Mayor Barbara Sharief. Voting no were commissioners Lois Wexler, Chip LaMarca, Stacy Ritter and Sue Gunzburger.

“Hard to hire” includes the homeless, felons, high school dropouts and mentally or physically disabled people, as well as military veterans. Economically disadvantaged includes people who have low incomes, are on welfare or food stamps, or have been unemployed six months or more. And some candidates from CareerSource, formerly WorkForce One, might not be in any of those categories. The federally funded CareerSource helps any and all of Broward’s unemployed find and qualify for jobs.

Any referral from CareerSource counts. But hiring an economically disadvantaged or “hard to hire” person counts as two hires, under the policy approved Tuesday.

Gone from the program are fines for failure to meet the requirements. Under the new version, county contractors will be provided incentives for meeting the goals.

The new policy applies to companies with contracts of $500,000 or more in construction-related work or other specific jobs, including food preparation, security, maintenance and cleaning, clerical work, parking and transportation, printing and landscaping.

First, the contractors must post the job for five days exclusively with CareerSource, then make a “good faith effort” to meet the requirement, including interviewing qualified applicants who are referred to them.

Ritter said it was “government overreach at its worst.”

“We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state and a lower unemployment rate than the nation,” Ritter said. “Government cannot solve the ills for every human being on this planet, nor should it.”

The idea for the law came to Holness from BOLD Justice, or Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice — a group of churches.

“We’re actually building the fabric of our community,” Holness said. “It reduces our cost for social services as a result of encouraging businesses to hire from these categories.”

“This is truly not the bogey man in the closet that some have painted it up to be,” Jacobs said.

Donna Simms, a member of Miramar United Methodist, said the law is “for the 54,000 Broward residents, members of our congregations, members of our families, and our friends, looking to find work.”

Had it been in place this year, it would have applied to 45 contracts totaling $290 million, budget director Kayla Olsen said in a memo

The Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast chapter expressed troubles with the proposal, and the South Florida Associated General Contractors also opposed it.

The act will be reassessed in two years.