March 11, 2014. Sun Sentinel.

People who have the toughest time landing a job — felons, homeless, high school dropouts,welfare and food stamp recipients, military veterans and the poor — would get a hiring boost under a proposed law working its way to passage at the Broward County Commission.

The law, dubbed the “Broward County Workforce Investment Act,” would require county contractors to give at least half the new, contract-related jobs to the “economically disadvantaged,” the “hard-to-hire,” or job candidates from CareerSource Broward (formerly WorkForce One), the official jobs clearinghouse here.

Failure to do so would draw penalties of $1,500 per job. Exceeding the requirement would bring a bonus of $500 per job.

Job opportunities would have to be posted first for five days with CareerSource, before being advertised to the general public.

Broward’s unemployment rate is low, at 5 percent. But Commissioner Dale Holness said the people who make up that 5 percent need help.

“We are looking after those who have great need to be hired, those who are unemployed,” Holness said. “And as we discussed previously, those who are unemployed have a very difficult time getting employed, even if they are skilled, even if they have all the qualifications.”

Commissioners have for months debated and delayed the controversial law, first proposed by Holness, who represents Broward’s poorest district. More debate is expected at the final hearing on April 11, when commissioners will also consider a version proposed by Commissioner Lois Wexler. Her version doesn’t impose fines, among other differences.

The measure is similar to laws on the books in Miami-Dade County.

“The key is nobody up here wants to say they don’t support this,” said County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the sole Republican on the nine-member commission. “I think everybody does. We are trying to figure out a way to make it work.”

The hiring preferences would apply to county contracts $250,000 or higher, for construction-related work or other specific jobs, including food preparation, security, maintenance and cleaning, maintenance, clerical work, parking and transportation, printing and landscaping.

To avoid fines, the contractor must try to fill half the new jobs with employees who are economically disadvantaged, hard to hire, referrals from CareerSource or one of its community partners, or through an apprenticeship program. Or the contractor could hire someone “without the skills, experience or qualifications” and train them through CareerSource or one of its partners.

CareerSource’s partners include the Urban League of Broward County, the OIC ofBroward County, the Broward County School Board, the Mt. Olive Development Corp., and ResBeat.

Under the proposal, “hard to hire” means people have a criminal felony record, are mentally or physically impaired, lack a GED or high school diploma, are a military veteran or were homeless for six of the past 12 months.

And “economically disadvantaged” people include those who have low income, have been trying unsuccessfully to get a job for six months, or are on welfare or food stamps.

Had it been in place this year, the proposal would have impacted 58 companies, county officials said.

The same companies are already required to pay their lowest wage workers a higher minimum wage, set by the county. The state minimum wage is $7.93 an hour. Broward’s living wage is $11.46 an hour.

Broward staff said estimating the financial impact of the law is difficult in some respects, especially if contractors choose not to bid on county jobs because of it.

“A reduced number of bidders may inhibit competition and drive up prices,” a county memo reads.

The law wouldn’t apply to contractors who operate with unions, or whose work falls under state or federal guidelines prohibiting local-based hiring requirements. And contractors who make a “good faith” effort but fail could also be excused.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position, but President Dan Lindblade said that personally, “I don’t think government should dictate to a company how to source employees.”

Contacted Tuesday, some companies that do major contract work with the county said they had no problem with the new requirements.

“I honestly don’t consider this to be a major hardship,” George Boue, vice president of human resources for Stiles Corp., said of the ordinance. “It’s reasonable and logical.”

The Fort Lauderdale firm, which has managed several large county construction jobs, including the recently completed downtown courthouse parking garage, already has policies aimed at hiring veterans, Boue said.

“I think most companies, especially civic-minded companies, we try to do the right thing.”

Boue said having a clearinghouse like CareerSource Broward will even help the businesses fulfill the new ordinance’s demands.

“When there’s some type of entity that facilitates this, it makes it better for the employer,” he said.

Randy Kierce, chief operating officer for Sunshine Cleaning Systems in Fort Lauderdale, called the new law “a positive thing.”

For his company, which has janitorial contracts at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and county libraries, the new ordinance won’t mean big changes.

“Some of the things they’re talking about in the ordinance, we’re already doing,” Kierce said. “We’ve worked with people in the past that kind of fit in with the description in the ordinance.”

The company already has mentally disadvantaged workers on its payroll, as well as those with criminal records. “We’ve got people out there that have been arrested,” Kierce said. “We believe in second chances.”

A faith-based organization, B.O.L.D. Justice, praised commissioners Tuesday for their unanimous vote to set the public hearing.