Local Government

Linn County supervisor wants to delay start date for minimum wage ordinance

Some want to wait until the state Legislature weighs in on the issue

The Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting room is shown in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center on Friday, July 8, 20
The Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting room is shown in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center on Friday, July 8, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — One Linn County Supervisor wants to postpone the first increase of the county’s minimum wage ordinance until after the Republican-led legislature weighs in on a statewide ordinance.

Supervisor Brent Oleson said he plans to propose during the board’s Wednesday meeting an amendment to the countywide minimum wage ordinance that would shift the first $1 increase in the local rate from Jan. 1 to July 1.

Oleson said his concern is the Linn County minimum wage, currently scheduled to increase to $8.25 an hour at the beginning of the year, could become a moot point if state lawmakers add a pre-emption clause this General Assembly that eliminates local governments’ ability to pass such an ordinance.

“Now that there is no clear path that the state government is going to be taking, we should change the enacting date to July 1 to give them room to do whatever they’re going to do, so our business owners aren’t bounced around from one wage to the other,” Oleson said. “I can just see that nightmare scenario where they’re paying $8.25 an hour and then in February there’s a pre-emption bill.”

The full board is scheduled to discuss Oleson’s proposal during Wednesday’s 10 a.m. meeting — and then vote on the proposal during the board’s 1:30 p.m. meeting — at the Jean Oxley Building, 935 Second St. SW, in Cedar Rapids.

Oleson said his proposal only amends the implementation date. The remainder of the ordinance, which includes three annual increases until the local rate reaches $10.25 an hour, would remain unchanged.

When supervisors in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties passed their respective minimum wage ordinances, they cited home-rule authority to defend their ability to raise a countywide ordinance.

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Meanwhile, city councils within those counties also have begun flexing their home-rule powers, with a handful in each county passing counter ordinances that essentially opt out of the higher minimum wage and stick with the state/federal rule.

Some officials, including Iowa’s labor commissioner, have questioned if raising the minimum wage falls under home rule. But so far the issue has not been challenged in court.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, in November told The Gazette she expects the Legislature to revisit the minimum-wage issue, with an eye toward pre-empting local standards.

A few weeks ago, Rep. Zack Nunn, R-Bondurant, and Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, told Iowa Chamber Alliance members pre-empting local entities from setting minimum wage levels higher than the state level are issues they expect the Legislature to tackle when its session begins Jan. 9.

Meanwhile, Gov. Terry Branstad has said he would consider a minimum-wage increase, but added he’d prefer to bring Iowa back to a single statewide wage and pre-empt local jurisdiction’s from creating a “hodgepodge” of different wages.

No one has been able to state definitively if any sort of pre-emption clause would be retroactive, meaning it would nullify existing county ordinances.

Linn County in September became the second in Iowa to approve a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 an hour state and federal rate. Supervisor John Harris voted against the ordinance.

“I’m supportive of the minimum wage and I’m supportive that counties and cities have a right to make their own decision, I don’t want anybody to take from this proposal that I’m not supportive,” Oleson said.

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Meanwhile, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he expects the county to continue moving forward with its minimum wage increase, which reaches $10.10 an hour Jan. 1.

“We’re going to continue doing what we felt was right,” Sullivan said. “I’m hopeful folks in the legislature will recognize what we’ve been doing has been working here and leave us alone.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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