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News >  Idaho

Bill would bar Idaho cities from increasing minimum wage

Idaho state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – An Idaho House of Representatives committee backed a bill Monday to ban cities and towns from raising the minimum wage.

The House Business Committee vote split along party lines, with majority Republicans supporting the ban.

The bill, which is similar to one under consideration in the Washington Senate, is one of several that Idaho legislators are considering this session to limit local government control. One bill, which already passed the state House, would bar local governments from banning or taxing plastic grocery bags.

The Idaho Retailers Association pushed the minimum-wage bill, saying it would prevent a “checkerboard” of differing wage laws across the state. So far, just one Idaho city, McCall, has voted on whether to enact a local minimum-wage hike, and it failed.

Idaho lawmakers have refused to consider legislation to raise the minimum wage statewide. It currently matches the federal minimum at $7.25 per hour.

“I think we have a wage crisis in this state, but we’re not going to resolve it through government mandates,” said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the lead sponsor on the bill to ban local minimum-wage hikes. “I think our continued focus on education, our continued focus on economic development are going to create a real market that will necessitate higher wages.”

Malek, an attorney, requested an Idaho attorney general’s opinion last May on the question of whether Idaho cities can set their own minimum-wage laws. The answer: It’s unclear.

“This might be an area … the Legislature will want to clarify in an upcoming session,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.

In Monday’s committee hearing, two citizens and a lobbyist spoke against the bill. Karleen Davis asked the committee to let local jurisdictions govern themselves. Marty Durand, lobbyist for the Idaho Building Trades legislative council, said the bill would “maintain our status as a low-wage, low-expectation state.”

Three lobbyists spoke in favor of it, representing the Idaho Retailers Association, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Pam Eaton, president and CEO of the Idaho Retailers Association, told the committee the bill would clarify local powers. “The founders made no mention of local government in the U.S. Constitution,” she said.

An incredulous House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked Eaton if she was suggesting that under the Constitution, cities have no right to see to the welfare of their citizens.

Eaton responded, “They gave the powers to the state and there was no mention of localities.”

The local minimum-wage ban moves to the full House for a vote. If it passes there and in the Senate and receives the governor’s signature, it will become law July 1.

Gov. Butch Otter told the Idaho Press Club last week that he’s not concerned about the state impinging on local governments’ control; he said such governments are “creatures of the state,” created by the state.

Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University, said the Legislature is following Miles’ Law: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

“If you’re serving at the state level, you’re not so much concerned about abusing the creatures of the state, but are very unhappy when the federal government treats you the same way,” Weatherby said.

The similar bill under consideration in Washington is sponsored by Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and also would prevent local governments from mandating paid sick leave. It passed a committee on a 4-3 partisan vote but will die unless passed by the full Senate by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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