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State: Cities and counties likely can’t regulate minimum wage

State: Cities and counties likely can’t regulate minimum wage

Dustin Hurst
May 20, 2015
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May 20, 2015

A newly released document suggests local governments may not have the power to regulate employee wages, the second legal analysis suggesting that idea.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said in a May 13 letter the state likely holds dominance in wage regulation, which could prevent local governments from setting their own minimum wages for employers to meet.

“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.

The law lacks clarity, though. “This might be an area in which the Legislature will want to clarify in an upcoming session,” Kane added.

Last week, Coeur d’Alene Deputy Attorney Warren Wilson offered very similar thoughts on a local minimum wage, spurred by progressive activists’ failed attempt to pass a local initiative to raise that city’s wages.

“Reviewing the initiative it appears that there is not a direct grant of authority to the city to regulate the minimum wage and that if there is implied authority to regulate the minimum wage, that the initiative is likely in conflict with I.C. 44-1502(1), which requires the minimum wage in Idaho to ‘conform to and track with’ the federal minimum wage,” Wilson wrote in an April 20 letter.

In short, a local minimum wage is likely a violation of state law.

“Neither the Idaho Constitution nor the Idaho Code contains a direct grant of authority to municipalities to regulate the minimum wage within their boundaries,” Wilson explained.
Interested parties could, Kane wrote, attempt to defend local wage regulation in court. “As reflected above, the question of preemption is close enough that at this point in time, a plausible argument could be advanced to defend a local ordinance,” Kane said.

Progressive activists in Coeur d’Alene don’t stand alone in their desire to raise local wages. A former Occupy Boise leader leads a similar effort in McCall, a resort town two hours north of Boise.

As Kane and Wilson noted, attorneys and judges could interpret state law for themselves, but Idaho code suggests minimum wages should “conform to and track with” the federal minimum wage.

Anne Nesse, the failed Democratic candidate for the Legislature, told Huckleberries Online she will continue to press the issue even though her group didn’t submit needed signatures for an initiative before the April 30 city deadline.
Legislative Democrats tried earlier this year to push a statewide plan to hike the minimum wage, but a bill for that never received a full committee hearing.

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