Iowa lawmakers seek to preempt local action on minimum wage, civil rights

Other issues also being targeted

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Business representatives Wednesday applauded a House proposal to preempt cities and counties from going beyond statewide standards for minimum wages and civil rights, while critics blasted the bill as an overreach that flies in the face of home rule and local control.

“We think there needs to be a clear policy across the state, not a patchwork,” said Jessica Harder, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business & Industry, who was joined by representatives of retailers, city chambers of commerce and casinos in supporting the bill to bar local entities from establishing minimum wage levels or employment regulations, marketing or consumer merchandise sales restrictions, or adopting civil rights ordinances that go above and beyond what the Legislature and governor have set as a statewide standard.

“It’s kind of an inconsistent policy to have,” she added.

The section of House Study Bill 92 dealing with any terms or conditions of employment that exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state minimum or living wage rate stated that any local ordinance or resolution in conflict with the preemption slated to take effect upon the governor’s signature would be void and unenforceable after that enactment date.

“For folks who believe in small government and local control, this makes absolutely no sense,” Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund told the two majority Republicans on a three-member House local government subcommittee. She questioned why lawmakers were pushing civil rights law preemptions designed to protect “marginalized people in our state” with a change that could reestablish discriminatory practices of the 1950s.

“Why are you messing with the Iowa Civil Rights Act?” she asked.

Joe Fagan, a Des Moines resident who applauded his Polk County supervisors for raising the county’s minimum wage above the state’s current $7.25 hourly minimum, chastised legislators for their inaction to address the issue until someone else did it for them.

“You didn’t do anything for all these years. Now they did something and now you’re here to take it away. The people who are poor, you’re acting like you want to keep them that way,” he said. “You finally did something by doing something bad.”

At the local level, Johnson County was the first in the state to pass a countywide minimum wage ordinance, which brought the local rate up to $10.10 last month. Future adjustments are possible based on committee recommendations.

Linn County’s minimum wage increased last month to $8.25 an hour, is slated to increase to $9.25 next year and reach $10.25 in 2019.

Wapello County approved an increase to $10.10 in 2019, while Polk County’s minimum wage will reach $10.75 an hour that same year.

Gary Grant, a lobbyist representing the city of Cedar Rapids, the Linn County supervisors and the Urban County Coalition, said he was concerned the bill goes “far beyond” the minimum wage dispute.

“This could be viewed as a virtual elimination of home rule,” Grant told the subcommittee members. “We understand what the target is, but we believe the bill is so broadly written it could be construed to almost remove the discretion of local governments in making ordinances.”

Several speakers expressed concern HSB92 would actually lower wages for some Iowans, while Pastor Debbie Griffin of the downtown Disciples of Christ church, implored lawmakers not to adversely impact changes that are helping to support, feed and empower disadvantaged Iowans.

“It is just appalling to me that you would do this injustice to people who are hungry, people who can’t afford child care, people who have to lower their pride to get assistance and they don’t want to,” she said. “So to take away the pride and the equality and the ability for people to earn a living wage, I just beg you not to do this and I completely cannot understand why.”

Subcommittee chair Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, said the bill would get more discussion from subcommittee members who did not vote publicly Wednesday.

Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, said he opposed the measure, but planned to offer amendments in committee and on the House floor that would include an effort to raise the statewide minimum wage to $11 an hour.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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