The Idaho Senate will have its chance to deliberate a plan to ban Gem State localities from enacting their own minimum wage laws after the House approved the proposal Friday.
The plan, sponsored by Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, cleared the chamber on a 55-to-14 party-line tally Friday. Republicans supported it and Democrats opposed it.
Malek told his colleagues the plan wouldn’t shift policy too much because he believe state law already prohibits local minimum wage ordinances. The proposal, he said, simply clarifies that ban.
Democrats attacked majority Republicans for stripping local control from localities.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said city and county leaders should have autonomy to find solutions for their own communities.
“Why not let our local governments figure it out for themselves?” she asked during floor debate. “Why not let them make mistakes, if a mistake is what you think this is?”
House Majority Assistant Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said the proposal doesn’t block businesses from paying employees more than the minimum wage, and protects the relationship between employers and employees.
He also said raising the minimum wage would have hurt the poor, who would have had to spend more on goods and services, because prices would have risen due to increased labor costs.
“Business is going to respond,” Crane told his colleagues.
The chamber’s lone economics professor, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, called the minimum wage an “arbitrary standard,” and argued it served as “an attack on personal liberty.”
He added that minimum wage laws block opportunities for low-skilled and minority workers because of the added labor costs.
Rep. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, intimated the Republicans are hypocritical on the issue because they detest federal mandates and regulations, but immediately turn around and deliver a top-down edict to cities and counties.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, fired back, telling House members the states created the federal government, counties and cities, and therefore has the power to restrain local government’s ability to regulate wages.
Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, turned the tables on Nate, and said studies have shown minimum wage hikes ultimately benefit minorities.
She also charged that the bill cleaned up language in favor of businesses and corporations. She suggested Idaho code be “cleaned up in favor of our citizens.”
The plan came to the Legislature after two cities, McCall and Coeur d’Alene, considered local minimum wage ordinances in 2015. The Coeur d’Alene ordinance, driven by a Democratic activist, died when the city’s legal team dubbed it illegal.
The McCall plan made it to the ballot last November, where it died on a 53 to 46 percent vote.
The Idaho House bill passed one day after neighboring Oregon’s House of Representatives passed a plan to hike its minimum wage to nearly $15 an hour in some metro areas over a six-year period. The Oregon bill, now headed to the Democratic governor’s desk, will also raise wages in more rural parts of the state to more than $12 an hour over the same period.