DES MOINES — House Republicans voted Thursday to pre-empt local governments from usurping state authority in business and employment matters after Democrats tried unsuccessfully to raise the statewide minimum hourly wage to $10.75 by 2019 and preserve higher wage floors adopted by four counties.
Representatives approved House File 295 by a 56-41 margin after first easing some civil rights restrictions that would have been imposed on cities and counties.
All 56 votes for the bill came from Republicans, but Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, joined 40 Democrats in opposing the measure. Two Republicans and one Democrat were absent when the issue came to a final vote.
The measure pre-empts city and county governments from creating local ordinances requiring businesses to pay a minimum wage or other employment benefits that differ from the state or federal government.
Local entities also cannot ban consumer merchandise or containers used for transporting the merchandise not authorized in state law — like plastic bags.
“It reiterates that statewide commerce and employment terms are matters of the state and not of local governments,” said Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, the bill’s floor manager. “We believe that local control is important and advocate for it. This bill is not inconsistent with that belief.
“Allowing cities and counties to set standards for employment matters and commerce creates an inconsistent playing field that hinders economic growth and business interests,” he added.
Minority Democrats said the best way to resolve the uniformity issue would be to raise the current statewide $7.25 hourly minimum wage incrementally to $10.75 by Jan. 1, 2019.
“At the public hearing the overwhelming consensus of business leaders across this state was that they simply wanted uniformity,” said Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines. “They did not want to go from county to county, city to city and city within the county and have to figure out what the minimum wage would be. I think that those are fair concerns.”
However, the proposal to raise the minimum wage was ruled out of order by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. The GOP-led House later turned back Meyer’s attempt to “grandfather” in minimum wage standards set by four counties that are higher than Iowa’s $7.25.
“There are going to be people adversely affected if we don’t adopt this amendment” to exempt the higher county minimums, said Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty. “Without this amendment we are asking 65,000 people to take a pay cut.”
Landon rejected that notion, saying “there’s nothing in this bill that pre-empts any employer from raising the wages of any employee in the state of Iowa. There’s nothing in this bill that causes anyone to have a lower wage and I think it clears up a misconception that counties and cities have the authority to take over whatever we don’t enforce."
The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 2009. Iowa adopted the same level when the 2007 Legislature passed and Gov. Chet Culver signed legislation increasing the minimum wage to $6.20 in April 2007 and to $7.25 in January 2008.
Officials in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties in Iowa have approved hourly wage minimums in their jurisdictions already in affect or slated to take effect in the future that exceed Iowa’s law, but those actions would be rendered “void and unenforceable” immediately if the Legislature passes and Branstad signs the bill.
Branstad is on record as supporting “a modest” minimum wage for Iowa.
“We’ve been waiting for years for the state to do it. We finally gave up and decided to do our own,” said Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa. “People can’t survive on what they are currently earning,” added Gaskill, who hoped the Legislature yet this session would revisit the issue of raising the statewide minimum wage — something several GOP representatives indicated they could support.
Democrats noted that 21 states set minimum wages higher than federal rate — some twice the $7.25 hourly standard — and that Iowa has one of the lowest levels in the Midwest region.
“We’re not raising the minimum wage here. Instead we’re going backwards,” said Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids. “Our supervisors tried to do the right thing. They tried to do something fair.”
The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate to be considered by 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats and one independent.
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