Legislative Notebook: Senate Passes Smaller Minimum Wage

By Don Davis

The Minnesota Senate voted 39-28 Wednesday to approve a minimum wage far lower than the House and governor favor.

Senators approved raising the hourly minimum wage to $7.75 an hour in two years for large employers, up from the current $6.15. Small businesses could continue to pay $5.25 an hour.

The House has approved a $9.50 wage, in line with Dayton’s wishes.

House and Senate bills would automatically raise the minimum wage based on inflation after 2015.

A House-Senate conference committee will have to merge the varying plans.

“This strong workforce has delivered a high quality of life for Minnesotans, but, unfortunately, Minnesota has fallen behind,” bill sponsor Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said. “It is time to stand up for these working families.”

She said she would like a higher wage, but was afraid it would not pass the Senate.

Eaton’s bill does not include a House-passed provision to require farmers to pay their employees overtime who work more than 40 hours a week. Under her bill, farm employees would continue to be paid overtime for working more than 48 hours.

Also missing from the Eaton bill is a House provision that would double the current requirement that new parents get six weeks of unpaid leave.

Republicans said that raising the minimum wage will hurt businesses, especially in rural Minnesota.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said he fears that a higher minimum wage would cause restaurants and other businesses that pay low wages to lay off staff.

“The (profit) margins are very slim” in many businesses that pay near the minimum wage, Dahms added.

Elections changes OK’d

Minnesotans would not need to give a reason for casting an absentee ballot under a bill the House approved 74-60 Wednesday.

Besides the no-excuse absentee voting, the bill is designed to reduce unlawful felon voting, would launch an electronic poll book pilot project and expand mail balloting.

“This bill takes common sense steps to protect the integrity of Minnesota’s election system while making it easier for more people to participate in the democratic process,” bill sponsor Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, said. “Our state has a proud history of leading the nation in voter turnout. We need to make sure that tradition continues into the future.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the bill would save Minnesota elections administrators money.

Stadium backup planned

Gov. Mark Dayton said he expects the Legislature to approve a back-up plan for funding the state portion of a nearly $1 billion Vikings football stadium.

The governor refused to reveal details of what he has discussed with legislative leaders, but said that taxing sports memorabilia is not an option now. Also, he said, asking the Vikings to pay more for their stadium is not in a plan.

Solar emphasized

The House passed a measure 70-63 late Tuesday requiring some Minnesota electricity to come from solar power.

The bill would require 4 percent of state electricity to come from solar by 2025 and increase the percentage of renewable energy in the state to be 40 percent by 2030 for investor-owned utilities. Renewable energy now is required to be 25 percent by 2025.

Budget goal

Legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton say they hope to reach an agreement by week’s end about how much to spend and tax in the two-year, $38 billion budget they are considering.

“There are a number of unresolved issues,” Dayton said, and budget and tax differences among him and the House and senate are shrinking.

A key issue is paving over differences among Dayton and Democratic legislative leaders’ tax plans, but the governor said: “I like the direction we are moving in.” The key players will not talk much about it.

The governor did say that he does not expect the Legislature to pass a House-proposed income tax surcharge to repay schools for money the state borrowed from them.

Dayton plans to meet with Republican officials this morning after several meeting with Democrats who control the House and Senate in recent days.

The Legislature must adjourn by May 20 and pass a two-year budget by then.