Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation headed for the House floor would allow owners of seasonal attractions to pay workers less than the minimum wage.
The proposal, Senate Bill 363, originally dealt with the sale of food from pushcarts at sports venues. The version unveiled Wednesday morning in the House Finance Committee is a gut-and-amend bill that deals with minimum wage and overtime, a new special assessment mechanism for property developers and small changes to state park boundaries.
The first section of the bill adds employees of "seasonal amusement or recreational establishments" to the short list of workers – camp counselors are on the list, for example – that the state exempts from minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Sponsor Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, said the new exemption was requested by minor league baseball owners but could also include workers at amusement parks, other sports venues, coastal tourist attractions and water parks.
Hartsell said the changes "conform to" the FLSA, which gives states the option to exclude those workers from protection. But several committee members pointed out that the change would give those employers the right to pay minimum-wage employees even less.
"Why would we want to do that," asked Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, "when we already know that $7.25 an hour is not even close to a living wage?"
Luebke offered an amendment to remove the entire first section of the bill. Former state Sen. Sandy Sands, lobbying on behalf of the minor league baseball team owners, spoke against the amendment.
Sands said minor league owners had not requested an exemption from the minimum wage and he wasn't sure how the minimum wage "got mixed up in" the provision, which he said was intended to clarify overtime rules for salaried workers at stadiums. He called the minimum wage a "fiction" in urbanized areas where teams are located, like Greensboro, Wake County and Asheville.
Luebke's amendment was defeated after Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, pledged to work with Luebke on a new floor amendment that would strike the minimum wage exemption from the bill, leaving the overtime exemption in place.
Another part of the legislation would set up a mechanism to allow local governments to collect money for developers.
Under current law, local governments can use a "special assessment" – a fee charged to some property owners – to pay for needed infrastructure such as roads, sewers or sidewalks. However, the process is a lengthy one, usually involving borrowing by the local government, public hearings and a plan for completion.
The bill would allow a wealthy developer to cover the cost of such infrastructure and then allow the local government to collect a special assessment from property owners and use it to pay the developer back.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, speculated that it might give a big developer a lot of power over surrounding property owners and voiced concerns about whether the process for such an agreement would be as careful or as transparent as the existing one.
Hartsell said the change, which would expire in five years, is intended to help a brownfields project.
Asked about the state treasurer's position on the bill, liaison and former Rep. Edgar Starnes said the Treasurer's Office takes no position after having worked to remove the "most egregious" sections of the measure.
The bill passed the committee on a voice vote and could be on the House floor as soon as Wednesday afternoon.