The first debate on the House Floor over prevailing wage has seen tempers flare and no vote taken.

Representatives Barney Fisher (left) and Jacob Hummel (right). Pictures courtesy, Missouri House Communications.

Representative Barney Fisher (R-Richards) says the ruling handed down by the State Supreme Court in March, 2011 in the case of Utility Services Incorporated versus the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, several times, includes the word “confusing” and calls for a bright line definition between construction, maintenance and major alteration projects. He believes the Court was hinting that while it can not write legislation to redefine those terms, someone should.

Read the state Supreme Court ruling referred to by Representative Fisher.

Fisher says the current definition of “construction” in the prevailing wage law would include the painting of existing facilities. He says that has far-reaching effects when water systems have to be maintained, and equated it to a tax. “We all have to have water. So, senior citizens would be effected, the blind … low-income families, low-income individuals, single parent mothers, everybody who can least afford a tax increase in their water bills can hardly afford this.”

Fisher says his bill will add the clarity he believes the Supreme Court was hinting at, by helping contractors, government entities and the Labor Department differentiate between types of projects. “Look at that bright regulatory line and say this is a construction project and it belongs on this side of the line and should be paid a prevailing wage. This is a maintenance contract and it belongs on the other side of the line and should not be paid a prevailing wage. This is a major alteration and it qualifies now under the definition of construction and should be paid a prevailing wage.”

See Representative Fisher’s proposal, HB 1198

Representative Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis City) says the bill will hurt the state’s laborers. He used the example of painters. “It seems to me like we’re going to give them around a $20 pay cut.”

Hummel says the desire to change the prevailing wage law stems from contractors not doing their jobs. “They’re too lazy to fill out their forms and send them into the Department of Labor like they’re supposed to do. If they did that we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Hummel confronted Fisher, saying the bill will force contractors to bid at prevailing wage to be competitive, an argument Fisher rejects. “You can’t show me in this bill where prevailing wage is cut.”

The legislation has been laid over.

AUDIO: Listen to the debate over House Bill 1198, 18:33