ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republicans who now control both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature sought Monday to give the state sole authority over whether to hike the minimum wage or require sick leave, a change backed by the state's powerful business community.
Lawmakers proposed the bill giving the state the final say after St. Paul and Minneapolis gear up to start requiring nearly all businesses to offer sick leave to employees this summer. There also has been a push to raise the minimum wage to as much as $15 an hour in both metropolitan hubs.
Cities across the nation have repeatedly tweaked their own workplace ordinances with wage hikes, moving faster or farther than state and federal policies. But Minnesota's GOP majority says it's ripe to create a confusing and costly patchwork of differing requirements in the state's 850-plus cities.
There has been fierce opposition to the proposed change. Hundreds of opponents packed inside a Capitol office building Monday, filling a hearing room and adjacent overflow room before a Senate panel passed on a party-line vote, with all Democrats voting against it. A Minnesota House committee passed its own measure last week.
"It's a vote that tells the thousands of citizens who lobbied their local elected officials that their voice doesn't matter. It tells citizens that local democracy doesn't matters," said Julie Blaha, treasurer and secretary of Minnesota's massive AFL-CIO union.
Minnesota's business community — led by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which heavily supported Republicans' successful takeover of the Legislature this year — has made the legislation a top priority. The chamber sued the city of Minneapolis in October over its new paid sick leave policy approved in May, arguing that the requirement that employers offer an hour of leave for every 30 hours worked conflicts with state labor laws.
St. Paul will also implement a paid sick leave requirement in July, while Duluth has also discussed a similar policy. Business officials urged lawmakers to limit the different rule books they need to follow, particularly for companies with a wide footprint across the state and nation.
"It is inevitable that innocent mistakes will be made, and yet businesses will have to pay significant insurance fees for those mistakes," said Steven Rush from Holiday, the chain of gas stations.
But business representatives also targeted a looming increase to minimum wage in Minneapolis, where city officials have organized sessions to gather feedback as they push to join the tide of major metropolitan cities setting their own, higher minimum wages. Advocates have called for a $15 hourly wage in Minneapolis, well above the state's current $9.50 floor wage.
"There's a very good chance Minneapolis will act on a dramatic minimum wage that's going to be harmful to small businesses," said Mike Hickey, Minnesota state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
It's unlikely to win the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who has called for another increase to the state's minimum wage after the hike he signed in 2014. But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said its one of Republicans' top priorities that they'll pressure the governor to approve.
"It likely will take some horse-trading," Gazelka said.