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Eye On Boise

House panel passes minimum wage pre-emption bill, would ban local ordinances, ballot measures to up wage

The House Business Committee has voted along party lines to approve a new law forbidding any local ordinances or ballot measures to raise the minimum wage; it prevents cities or counties from enacting any regulations on minimum wages. “This clears up any confusion of what powers were given to them or not given to them to begin with,” said Pam Eaton, president and CEO of the Idaho Retailers Association. “The founders made no mention of local government in the U.S. Constitution.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked Eaton, “Did you say that under the U.S. Constitution, the cities have no right or ability to see to the welfare of their citizens?” Eaton responded, “They gave the powers to the state and there was no mention of localities.”

In addition to Eaton, John Watts, lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, and Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation spoke in favor of the bill; both Watts and Eaton said it would provide uniformity for businesses. Hoffman said businesses should be allowed to set their own wages.

Three people testified against the bill, HB 463. Karleen Davis told the committee, “My message is simple: Please allow the locals to govern themselves.” Marty Durand, lobbyist for the Idaho Building Trades legislative council, said, “This bill only solidifies our position at the bottom. … This will maintain our status as a low-wage, low-expectation state.”

Rusche made a motion to send the bill to the House’s amending order, to amend it to also raise Idaho’s minimum wage, which now matches the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage. “If we can’t have anything excecpt a state minimum wage, let’s at least talk about what the wage should be,” he said. It failed, with only the panel’s three minority Democrats supporting it.

Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, moved to kill the bill. “We have a strong relationship, a transparent relationship with local municipalities and I’d like us to maintain that relationship,” she said. Her motion, too, failed on a party-line vote with just the three Democrats supporting it; then, Rep. Joe Palmer’s motion to pass the bill passed on a party-line vote.

“Minimum wage is the floor, it’s not the ceiling,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told the committee. “Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage, it’s just a starting point. Whenever you try to ratchet it up on businesses … that is government overreach into the private sector. Any time you raise minimum wage you raise the cost of doing business.”

He said, “Raising the minimum wage is not the solution. It’s to get businesses here that want to pay their employees a better wage.” The bill now moves to the full House; it needs passage there and the governor’s signature to become law. The bill has 16 co-sponsors, all Republicans; its lead sponsor is Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene.

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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