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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Senate committee clears minimum-wage pre-emption bill, dividing along party lines

The House Local Government & Taxation Committee has split along party lines to approve a minimum-wage pre-emption bill, HB 463, barring any local ballot measures or ordinances aimed at raising the minimum wage. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, mirroring the federal minimum.

Pam Eaton, president and CEO of the Idaho Retailers Association, said, “It’s been proven over and over again that patchwork regulations don’t work for the overall state economy.” She said the pre-emption bill would “ensure a stable, level playing field on this issue for Idaho businesses long into the future.”

Numerous people testified on both sides of the bill. Adrienne Evans, executive director of United Action for Idaho, told the committee the pre-emption bill “sends the message that elected officials don’t care about their constituents, and it continues to keep workers and their families living in extreme poverty with no recourse. … The bill denies people the ability to participate in the political system.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, asked Eaton, “Idaho already has the highest rate of minimum wage earners. Are we prepared to keep them there at the poverty line?” Eaton responded, “What we’re saying is that discussion on whether we should increase the minimum wage should be had at the state level.” Stennett said, “I would disagree, because the cost of living is different around my district.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Idaho ranked No. 1 in the nation for its percentage of workers earning minimum wage or less in 2012, hit No. 2 in 2013, and ranked 9th in 2014. About 5.1 percent of Idahoans fall into that category, compared to a national average of 3.9 percent.

When Stennett asked Eaton whether it wasn’t good enough that voters have dealt with the issue in Idaho – the only local minimum wage increase measure that made a city ballot, in McCall, was defeated – Eaton said, “When it’s put to the voters, obviously businesses have to go in and spend time and money to try and stop it. That’s not fair to the businesses. ... It’s a feel-good issue. People feel like they shouldn’t be against it.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said by his reading of the law and the state Constitution, “Frankly they’re prohibited right now. This just clarifies it.”

The bill already has passed the House, on a straight party-line vote with all Democrats opposing it and all Republicans supporting it. It now moves to the full Senate for a vote; if it passes there and receives the governor’s signature, it would become law.

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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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