After some blunt words and two days of tense meetings, legislative negotiators on minimum wage have reached an impasse for now.
Lawmakers are tied up with whether or not to add an inflationary bump to their move to phase in the proposed increase in the wage floor to $9.50 an hour by 2016.
Against a backdrop of national Democrats, including President Obama, Democratic campaign arms and several members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, pushing for a federal minimum wage hike, DFLers controlling the Minnesota House and Senate have reached what Rep. Ryan Winkler called a "stalemate."
"It doesn't look like we're making a lot of progress," Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told his fellow lawmakers as they attempted to negotiate a minimum wage compromise on Wednesday.
Since Monday, when Senate officials said for the first time they would support a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour, House and Senate officials have been unable to agree whether future minimum wage increases should be automatic.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said on Tuesday that if the House insisted on including an inflationary bump, "there won't be a bill."
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, replied, "if the Senate wants to kill the bill, they should just tell Minnesotans directly."
While tempers appeared to have cooled publicly by Wednesday, legislators were still stymied over the question of inflation in minimum wage increases come 2017.
"The inflator is a non-starter in the Senate. I don't have the votes," Sen. Chris Eaton, a Brooklyn Center Democrat who is the Senate's chief negotiator, said on Wednesday.
The negotiators, who met every day this week, will not meet publicly again until Monday. Winkler suggested that in the interim it may be helpful for lawmakers to talk about creative approaches to dealing with the inflation question.
At least one DFL House member tried social media to move things forward:
If you live in Minnesota, and you care about a respectable minimum wage, you need to contact your state senator. Now. #RaiseTheWage— John Lesch (@johnlesch) March 5, 2014
Photo: A minimum wage rally at the state Capitol greeted lawmakers as they returned to session last week // Source: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune
The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Wednesday to delay the tax penalty Americans will pay under President Obama’s healthcare law if they decline to sign up for coverage this year.
The bill passed with support from 27 Democrats, including Minnesota congressmen Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson, backing the legislation.
The individual mandate requires most Americans to be enrolled in health coverage by March 31 or pay a tax penalty. The House legislation would delay the fine for one year.
The bill is expected to stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would face a White House veto even if it succeeded.
Peterson, a conservative Democrat, has voted for similar measures before.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee chaired by former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, pounced on Nolan’s vote, calling it an “election year conversion.”
“He thinks he can pull a fast one on Minnesotans, right? With this vote, he’ll show them that he’s now protecting individuals from Obamacare, right?” an email from the political action committee read. “Except Minnesotans already know that Rick Nolan is an entrenched supporter of the health care law.”
Supporters of the GOP bill argue that individual consumers should be granted a delay because the Obama administration has postponed the implementation of several Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to businesses.
“No American should have to pay a penalty simply because the roll out of the Affordable Care Act has been so confusing. Moreover, if you’re going to give an exemption to businesses, you should also give an exemption to individuals. It’s only fair,” Nolan said in a statement. “We need to take the time to fix the enrollment glitches and get this right – and in the meantime allow the American people the common sense flexibility this one year delay provides.”
A measure aimed toward further slowing the flow of synthetic drugs in Minnesota unanimously cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.
The House Public Safety Committee unanimously approved a bill that further expands the definition of synthetic drugs from a specific chemical compound to anything producing the same effect as a banned drug. The goal is to in encompass the ever-changing makeups of synthetic drugs, which allow synthetic drug manufacturers and dealers to evade prosecution.
Despite laws passed in 2011 that deemed specific synthetic drugs illegal, law enforcement has continued to struggle with the fallout from the substances marketed as “bath salts” or “incense” and designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
A key aspect to the bill enables the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to issue cease and desist orders to businesses that sell synthetic drugs, rather than seeking time-consuming court and legislative action. If the Board of Pharmacy believes a banned substance is being sold inside a business and it tests positive as such, they can immediately order it to stop.
The bill’s author, Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said such cease-and-desist powers could have brought a quicker halt to synthetic drug sales by Last Place on Earth, a now-closed Duluth head shop, whose owner, Jim Carlson, was convicted in federal court for selling synthetic drugs.
The bill was passed after a group of lawmakers toured the state to hear from the public about the impact of the drugs across the state. In Moorhead, Minn., where as many as five head shops once lined the streets and one man was so high on synthetic drugs that he jumped through a second-floor glass window, police made arrest after arrest, only to see the cases dropped because the laws made specific chemical compounds illegal, manufacturers simply tweaked their recipes to skirt the law.
Simonson said the bill likely isn’t a cure-all, and further legislation could be necessary down the line to adapt to an ever-morphine issue, particularly when it comes to Internet sales.
The bill heads next to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Over the weekend, local Minneapolis Republicans endorsed Abdimalik Mohamed Askar in his run for state House in Minneapolis.
His name might be familiar: he ran for president of Somalia a few years ago. Republican Party chair Keith Downey said he is the first Somali-American the party has backed.
"We are so pleased that Abdimalik Askar has stepped forward to run. It breaks new ground for Republicans to have endorsed someone from the Somali community, but more importantly he would represent his district so well," Downey said.
Askar is running in a heavily Democratic district. In 2012, longtime DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn won re-election with 77 percent of the vote and Democratic President Obama won 75 percent of district's votes. This year, Kahn faces an endorsement challenge from Minneapolis School Board member Mahamud Noor.
"The reason why I'm running is very simple: I would like to improve...our district," Askar said in a video on his campaign web site. He said he would focus on education, including charter schools and school choice, crime reduction, creating opportunity for young people and advocating for small businesses.
He also said he shares anti-abortion values with Republicans and that he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. In 2012, a vast majority of the district rejected a ban on same-sex marriage. Last year, Minnesota legalized same sex marriage.
Minnesota legislative talks among Democrats over raising the state's minimum wage Tuesday night included blunt words from the leaders of the House and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday night that there is no way the Senate will accept an automatic inflator in a minimum wage bill, "period."
The idea of including an automatic inflationary bump come 2017 has become a key sticking point in the negotiations between House and Senate, both in DFL control, over hiking the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour. House members have backed a $9.50 hour minimum wage that would add an inflationary index.
"Inflation's not going to happen. There won't be a bill," said Bakk, DFL-Cook. "If that's the big hang up, it's too bad because people could benefit from the higher wage."
House Speaker Paul Thissen reacted just as bluntly to Bakk's bluntness.
"The bottom line, to me, if the Senate wants to kill the bill, they should just tell Minnesotans directly and stop playing games with it," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Legislators have been talking for months about raising the state's minimum wage from $6.15 an hour, one of the lowest in the nation. The Senate backed a modest increase, while the House, Gov. Mark Dayton and advocates have backed a hike to $9.50 an hour.
On Monday night, the Senate said it had rounded up enough votes to hike the wage floor to $9.50 by 2016. Although that was the number backers long said was their target, the potential deal on Tuesday appeared to hit problems over the idea of inflation.
Bakk said he would vote for a minimum wage bill with an automatic inflator but he could not get a 34-vote majority to approve it.
"I can't get there," Bakk said.
Thissen rejected that claim. Of working with the Senate on minimum wage, Thissen said: "It's been a struggle the whole time."
He said he had "every confidence in the world that if Tom Bakk wanted to do indexing he could get those votes."
Thissen said the House is flexible on how exactly inflation is factored into a final minimum wage bill but "we think it is important there is an indexing."
House and Senate negotiators, who met on Tuesday night without agreeing, may continue their talks yet this week.
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