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House panel bans local minimum wage laws

House panel bans local minimum wage laws

Dustin Hurst
February 15, 2016
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February 15, 2016

Idaho’s Republican lawmakers have no interest in letting Boise become the next Seattle, at least when it comes to minimum wages.

Members of the House Business Committee approved a bill today to ban Idaho’s local governments from enacting their own minimum wage laws, as Seattle and other cities across the country have done.

The measure, sponsored by the Idaho Retailers Association and the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association, now heads to the House floor for a full hearing.

Pam Eaton, lobbyist for the two association, told panel members the statewide ban would prevent “checkerboard” regulations that would make life difficult for small businesses.

Idaho law already suggests cities and counties don’t have the power to determine minimum wage levels, but this bill would strengthen the language to make that ban clear.

The bill came after two cities -- McCall and Coeur d’Alene -- considered their own wage laws last year. After separate legal analyses, the two resort cities came to two different conclusions about their authority to mandate wages; Coeur d’Alene decided it didn’t have the authority to regulate wages and nixed its plan, while McCall believed it did and let the issue go to a public vote.

The McCall measure ultimately failed last November to gain a majority at city polls.

Committee Democrats tried in vain to kill the measure. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, motioned to amend the bill to set a higher minimum wage than Idaho offers.

The ban bill “does nothing to address the adequacy of the minimum wage,” Rusche told colleagues.

Idaho Democrats proposed legislation this year to raise the state’s minimum wage from the federally mandated $7.25 per hour to $9.25 over two years.

The Democrats’ bill was introduced in a Senate panel, but will not receive a full committee hearing.

The ban bill won support from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose president, Wayne Hoffman, told lawmakers to think even smaller about the concept of local control in terms of setting wages.

“We don’t talk enough, I’m afraid, about businesses' right to make wage decisions on their own,” Hoffman told the panel.

He added, when government tries to come between businesses and employees, “then you’re denying them local control.”

John Watts, lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, also spoke in favor of the ban. He suggested that allowing local ordinances could make accounting very difficult for businesses, especially those that do work in many Idaho cities.

“We prefer a statewide approach to setting minimum wage standards,” Watts said.

The measure survived two attempts to kill it: Rusche motioned to amend it, plus, Plummer Democrat Rep. Paulette Jordan requested to hold the bill in committee.

Jordan said the McCall case -- where businesses campaigned against the hike -- allowed businesses to voice their concerns locally.

House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, scolded Democrats for relying on the minimum wage to boost incomes for Idaho families.

“Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage,” Crane said. He told colleagues that artificial boosts of minimum wage laws hurt consumers because the regulations raise prices.

“Any time you raise the minimum wage, you raise the cost of doing business,” Crane said. “Raising the minimum wage is not the solution.”

If the Legislature approves the ban, Idaho would become the 30th state to preempt local wage regulations.

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com

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