Rollback of minimum wages now in governor's hands

Senate gives last approval to bill banning local business rules

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazett
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa Senate turned back efforts Monday to let cities and counties set their own minimum wage levels, saying the pay floor should be the statewide $7.25 an hour that has been the standard for nearly a decade.

Majority GOP senators voted 29-21 to send Gov. Terry Branstad a House-passed bill that rolls back higher minimum wage thresholds approved in at least four counties including Johnson and Linn and asserts the state has sole authority in setting business and employment standards for Iowa.

“This bill creates certainty, predictability and consistency as a cornerstone to this legislation,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, who served as floor manager of House File 295.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, called the reasons “extraordinarily lame” and noted several counties came up with “a perfect market-driven solution” to raise the rate in the face of state inaction.

All 20 Democrats and independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan voted against the bill after trying unsuccessfully to assert local control and strip the minimum wage requirement from the pre-emption bill, and offering a separate amendment to make the provision effective for city and county action occurring only after April 1.

The final Senate passage came on a day when Branstad told his weekly news conference he supports the pre-emption bill but also would entertain legislation to raise the statewide minimum wage as well.

“I understand the interest in having a uniform minimum wage throughout the state. I support that. I think not having that creates a lot of uncertainty and a lot of problems,” Branstad said. “I would prefer that we consider a modest increase over time in the minimum wage, as some of our neighboring states have done. It’s the art of what is possible and we want to work with the Legislature to see what can be accomplished.”

Minimum wage across U.S. (2016)

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

However, top Republicans in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate said last week they do not expect the Legislature to consider increasing the minimum still this session.

Johnson, a former GOP senator who dropped his party affiliation, said local control is a basic Republican tenet and he was perplexed by majority senators’ insistence in taking that away.

“Break the chains. Be a free thinker and a free person on this,” he said. “It’s time to make a difference here. We are a low-wage, low-skill state. We need to invest in people. It’s time. This is just nothing but state government run amok.”

Iowa last approved increases to the minimum wage starting in 2007. The Legislature passed and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver signed legislation increasing the minimum to $6.20 in April 2007 and then to $7.25 in January 2008.

Officials in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties 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 Branstad signs the bill.

“What is wrong with people in this chamber? What do we have against poor people?” asked Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.

Beyond prohibiting local wage rules, the legislation also pre-empts local governments from adopting consumer merchandise ordinances. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the bill might carry unintended consequences if it limits local governments’ ability to regulate alcohol or restrict businesses that market pornography.

But Feenstra said those restrictions already are covered by zoning authority in a separate section of the Iowa Code.

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