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Eye On Boise

Bill would ban local ballot measures or ordinances to raise minimum wage

On a party-line vote, the House Business Committee has agreed to introduce “state pre-emption” legislation proposed by the Idaho Retailers Association to ban any local ballot initiatives or ordinances to raise the minimum wage above the state minimum. Pam Eaton, president and CEO of the retailers group and the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association, said, “This is not a discussion on minimum wage and if it should be increased or not. This is a discussion on the damage that checkerboard regulations do to businesses and also the economy of the state of Idaho.”

She noted that McCall had a voter initiative on the minimum wage this past year; it failed. “We were working with all the businesses up there in running a campaign to stop it,” she said, “because what we heard from businesses, there were some that were showing me their bottom line and saying, ‘I may close if this happens.’” Eaton said that was even though they were already paying above the minimum wage. “The thing is, when you increase minimum wage, you really have to increase everyone’s wages,” she said.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked Eaton, “How do you feel about a public policy in local areas, for example McCall or some of the other resort areas, where they actually have such a high cost of living that they’re trucking in workers, including service-level workers, from far away, because nobody can afford to live there? Do you not think there’s a public policy reason for them to decide perhaps people should be paid more there, so they can afford to live there and be part of the community?”

Eaton responded, “We would actually argue that that doesn’t solve anything. We do think when it comes to safety and public health issues, the cities should have the authority to watch out for their citizens, but when it gets into areas beyond that, that really does hurt businesses.”  

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked, “Is there anything in Idaho statute currently to prevent those businesses from paying their employees above minimum wage so that they can live in those communities?” Eaton said no. “That’s the marketplace at work,” she said.

Crane moved to introduce the bill; his motion carried with just the three minority Democrats on the panel, Rusche and Reps. Paulette Jordan and Elaine Smith, objecting. That clears the way for a hearing on the bill.

Earlier this session, a Senate committee chair refused to allow his panel to consider introducing legislation to raise Idaho's minimum wage, which matches the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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