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Bill to curb city minimum wage hikes nearing Dayton’s desk

ST. PAUL — The Republican-led Legislature is ready to test Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton after the Senate passed a bill Thursday that would ban Minnesota cities from setting their own minimum wage and paid sick leave rules.

The debate over who should control local labor regulations has raged at the Legislature for months, pitting the Republicans who control the Legislature and the business allies backing the measure against Democrats and workers who have turned out in droves to protest the bill. The Senate approved the measure on a near-party line vote of 35-31, following passage early last month in the House.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, was the only Democrat to vote for the measure.

It won’t head to Dayton’s desk yet, as a few small differences between the two versions need to be reconciled. But Dayton wouldn’t take a firm position on the bill when asked about it before the Senate vote, though he expressed “very significant concerns” about hamstringing cities from enacting their own, tailored policies.

Senate Republicans argued that businesses need uniformity on wage regulations and sick leave policies between cities. Without it, they said employers will be forced to juggle multiple labor laws depending on where they do business.

“A patchwork of inconsistent labor standards from city to city, or county to county … would be extremely confusing and a huge burden for businesses in the state of Minnesota, especially our small business,” GOP Sen. Jeremy Miller said ahead of the floor debate.

And Republican Sen. Jerry Relph of St. Cloud said the paid sick leave ordinances set to take effect this summer in Minneapolis and St. Paul — which would be rolled back if the bill is signed into law — extend far beyond the idea of letting cities have control of their labor laws.

For example, he said that businesses located in multiple cities may have to raise their pay at every location if one city they do business in votes for a higher minimum wage.

But Democrats complained that the bill would strip away local cities’ abilities to craft policies to best for their needs. Sen. Matt Little of Lakeville said he learned during his time as mayor that state policies that regulate local laws complicate the job of local officials.

“Minnesota state government has always set minimum standards of protection and benefits for people,” he said. “This bill sets a ceiling and I don’t think that is the proper role of state government.”

Democrats were also critical of the bill because they said it was backed by businesses and lobbying groups seeking to take away local input on pay issues.

As the Republican Legislature works to reconcile the differences between its two bills, they could be expecting a veto from the governor. With most of the focus of the Legislature on budget bills, Republicans’ work to push the bill shows they are serious about getting it passed, either by itself or part of a larger budget measure.