Progressive policies enacted in Minnesota’s largest cities in recent years are at risk from Republicans who control the state Legislature as they seek to block, undo or change local ordinances on everything from sick leave and the minimum wage to plastic bags and bike lanes.
A handful of measures making their way through the Legislature would have ramifications for cities across the state. But the biggest targets are Minneapolis and St. Paul, where new ordinances on sick leave and plastic bags are set to go into effect within months — and where the priorities of progressive city leaders and their constituents are at odds with conservative lawmakers from other parts of Minnesota.
“Clearly the cultural values of Minneapolis are drastically out of alignment with greater Minnesota, so there’s going to be conflicts,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, author of a bill that would block cities from passing their own labor rules.
Earlier this month, the House passed Garofalo’s bill to repeal new paid sick-leave mandates in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Another Republican measure, with versions now moving in the House and Senate, aims to overturn a plastic bag ban set to take effect in Minneapolis on June 1, and to prevent other cities from approving similar bans.
Last week, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, introduced a bill that would reduce state aid payments to any city that raises its minimum wage or mandates paid sick or family leave.
The growing tally has city officials, who overwhelmingly voted to approve the measures in question, frustrated.
“It’s disheartening, to say the least,” said St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark, who voted with his council colleagues to approve sick leave last fall.
“It feels like we’ve got a group of folks who are elected officials but don’t represent my constituents here in St. Paul that are trying to do work that we who are elected to represent the residents of St. Paul did.”
Battles between the big cities and outstate Minnesota communities are a recurring theme at the State Capitol, as lawmakers from around the state decide how to hand out taxpayer money.
A ban on the bag ban
This year, however, some legislators from outside the Twin Cities are sharpening their focus on particular big-city ordinances in addition to broader issues of spending and policy.
The efforts against local plastic bag bans would prohibit cities from banning them or requiring stores to charge a bag fee.
If passed and signed into law, the legislation would take effect May 31, one day before Minneapolis’ new plastic bag ban — the first of its kind in the state — is set to take effect.
The bills’ lead authors, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said they see the Minneapolis ordinance as an unnecessary burden that could hurt businesses around the state.
Ingebrigtsen said he wrote his bill after he was approached by the Minnesota Grocers Association, which lobbied against the ban in Minneapolis alongside other business organizations and lobbyists representing the plastic bag industry. He said many businesses are offering more environmentally friendly bag options.
Nash agreed, calling the Minneapolis policy an “awkwardly written ordinance [that’s] causing a lot of concern for the business community and causing a lot of concern for grocers.”
In committee hearings, lawmakers listened to testimony from many of the same people who made their case to the Minneapolis City Council.
Supporters said the ban would cut down on litter, help protect Minneapolis’ natural resources and help the city reach its ambitious zero-waste goals.
Representatives from businesses like Kowalski’s Markets said their customers prefer to make their own decisions between plastic, paper or reusable bags.
“We think what businesses need to do is take a responsible approach, but we don’t agree with not giving customers a choice,” said Mike Oase, Kowalski’s vice president of operations.
‘Frustrating’ to councils
Over a more than yearlong process that included committee hearings, meetings with businesses and public listening sessions, Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon said he gave all of those viewpoints thoughtful consideration. In the end, he voted alongside 10 of the council’s 13 members to approve the ban.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing because it seemed like I was doing my job,” Gordon said.
He said no state lawmakers notified him or other council members of their plans to erase their work.
Meanwhile, Rep. Duane Quam, a Republican from the south-central Minnesota town of Byron, introduced a bill that would require cyclists in cities to get an “urban bike lane permit” to ride their bikes in designated bike lanes.
That bill, a swipe at the heart of a growing bicycle culture in Minneapolis, has not received a committee hearing.
Minneapolis and St. Paul face a more immediate challenge in the bills that would undo their new sick-leave mandates and block any future discussion of higher wages or other workplace benefits.
Legislators point to state law
Both cities’ sick-leave ordinances are set to go into effect July 1, providing approximately 150,000 workers with paid sick leave. City leaders say the benefit will help lessen persistent racial and economic disparities.
Garofalo and Drazkowski see the measures as contrary to state law.
A legal challenge against Minneapolis’ sick leave ordinance is pending in court, and both lawmakers said they believe Minneapolis and St. Paul are running afoul of the typical balance between state and city governments.
Drazkowski said he takes issue with the way Minneapolis officials are making policy and running their city.
“They are outside of the authority that state law provides for them,” he said.
GOP lawmakers said they’ll continue to push back against the idea that businesses and residents might have to contend with differing regulations across the state.
They said they believe they are looking out for Minnesota rather than quashing the kind of local control that conservatives frequently champion.
“In theory, I don’t like that, I don’t like the big daddy of the rule-makers coming down on local control issues,” Ingebrigtsen said, “but this is bigger than Minneapolis.”