A tale of Idaho two cities might force state legislators to clarify a ban on local governments enacting their own minimum wage laws.
The House Business Committee introduced a bill Tuesday to affirm that the Legislature alone holds the power to set the state’s minimum wage. Only committee Democrats voted against the bill.
The plan came to the Legislature after two resort cities, McCall and Coeur d’Alene, differed last summer on local wage regulations. Idaho Retailers Association Lobbyist Pam Eaton told the panel the bill’s she’s sponsoring would prevent “checkerboard regulations” that would hamper small businesses.
Last summer, liberal activists in McCall and Coeur d’Alene asked their cities to consider local wage hikes. The Coeur d’Alene city legal team rejected the measure because it believed state law prohibited local-wage ordinances.
McCall, on the other hand, moved forward with the plan after residents there gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the local November 2015 ballot. The ballot question eventually failed when only 47 percent of voters supported it at the polls.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane weighed in on the minimum wage issue in May 2015, also suggesting the state held preeminence on wage levels.
“Given the regulatory specificity in the state statute, one can infer that the Legislature intended to occupy the field,” Kane wrote to House Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, who requested the opinion.
Kane noted Idaho law contains some ambiguity that leaves the door open to interpretation. He noted, “[Wage preemption] might be an area in which the Legislature will want to clarify in an upcoming session.”
Eaton told panel members the bill she’s sponsoring isn’t a commentary on the minimum wage issue itself, but rather just a measure to clarify existing law and ensure uniformity for businesses.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, rejected Eaton’s arguments and motioned to kill the bill. House Minority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, noted the law allows businesses to pay above minimum wage and moved to introduce the plan.
The committee will likely give the bill a full hearing in the next week or two.