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House bill would ban cities from enacting minimum wages

March 4, 2017 GMT

ST. PAUL — The Republican-controlled Minnesota House has passed a proposal that would block local minimum wage measures and the paid sick leave ordinances set to go into effect this summer in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The vote followed a demonstration and sharp words between lawmakers over local control, and workers’ rights versus business needs.

The so-called pre-emption measure would bar cities from setting their own labor regulations. That’s been a hot-button issue, particularly in Minneapolis, where advocates have been pushing the city to set a new $15-an-hour minimum wage, higher than the state’s standard.

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After hours of debate, the measure passed 76-53 on a mostly party-line vote. DFL Reps. Gene Pelowski, of Winona, and Jeanne Poppe, of Austin, joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

Next, a similar measure is set to be considered in the state Senate.

Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Rochester, said the bill would help ensure Minnesota remains a competitive place for business.

“The negative impacts of what it does for commerce in the state of Minnesota to have the inconsistencies going from city to city is really something that would make it an obstacle to do business in the state of Minnesota,” Pierson said.

But Rep. Duane Sauke, DFL-Rochester, argues that these issues should be left up to local governments and it is not the state’s place to interfere.

“For me, the core is that this (bill) steps in front of a basic concept of local decision making,” Sauke said.

Bill author Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Republican from Farmington, said he expected a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton of the bill as is, but that he hoped a compromise with the Senate could add better wage enforcement or other measures that would make statewide labor standards palatable for both Democratic legislators and Dayton.

“We want to catch those bad guys, and make sure that the businesses playing by the rules don’t get punished,” Garofalo said. “We also want to have a thoughtful conversation about what it is people are trying to accomplish here with these ordinances.”

Republican Rep. Jim Nash of Waconia said city-by-city variation in labor law threatened the very jobs that worker advocates were trying to improve.

“I have a friend that owns restaurants in multiple places and they have employees that go back and forth. The back office paperwork is a nightmare,” Nash said.

Opponents of the bill said efforts to improve working conditions, like requiring paid sick leave, improves the lives of working people, even if it’s done in a piecemeal, city-by-city way.

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“Advocates for this bill keep saying that it’ll create a patchwork quilt of different regulations all over the state,” said Rod Adams of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “But as we know, the lives of workers of color are just a patchwork quilt, working two to three jobs to just patch together income, to just make ends meet.”

Democrats on the House floor were particularly critical of the part of the bill that makes it retroactive to January 2016, before Minneapolis and St. Paul approved the sick time ordinances for all employees in the two cities. The mandates are due to go into effect in July.

Rep. Erin Maye Quade said pre-emption would affect thousands of Minnesotans, most of whom are people of color.

“We can’t keep talking about racial disparities, act like we’re confused about why it happens, do this, and then come back later, and say we should really do something,” the Apple Valley Democrat said.

But Republicans insisted it wasn’t fair for the two cities to set the standard for every other community. Rep. Dave Baker owns a hotel and restaurant in Willmar.

“We can’t just allow certain cities, our two largest cities in the state, to do what they think is right for their communities, because it so much affects our communities as well,” Baker said.

DFLers also offered a range of amendments to the bill, such as requiring statewide sick leave, a 21-day notice for hourly work schedules, and better protection for worker’s pay. They even offered a tongue-in-cheek idea to abolish city governments and turn all authority over to the state. But no action was taken on the amendments.

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