Senate Votes To Limit Local Power On Minimum Wage, Related Issues

Minnesota communities could not regulate wages, benefits or employee scheduling under legislation that appears headed to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said that it would not hamper local control, as critics say. “I am all for local control and I don’t think you can get any more local than relationships between employers and employees.”

But opponents of the measure said cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul that already have enacted employee rules should have that ability.

“Local governments are in the best positions to make these decisions,” Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, D-Minneapolis, said.

Senators passed the bill 35-31 Thursday, April 20, after House members voted 76-52 for it last month.

The vote came on the day that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton met with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, to begin working on a joint budget that can pass before lawmakers must adjourn May 22.

Senators also agreed with the House on a bill that would remove a state requirement that twinhomes have fire sprinkler systems.

The minimum wage bill, known in the Capitol as preemption, is one of the most controversial of the session and Dayton Thursday said he does not like the idea.

The governor said he has “very significant concerns” with the state telling governments what to do. However, he stopped short of saying he would veto it.

Miller said his bill is needed to prevent “a patchwork of inconsistent labor standards (that would be) confusing and a huge burdens on businesses in the state, especially small businesses.”

Mike Hickey of the National Federation of Independent Businesses told lawmakers that if Minneapolis, for instance, enacts a $15-an-hour minimum wage “it will put some small businesses out of business, will cause significant harm to other businesses and will also likely cause significant job loss.”

Before senators voted to limit wage and other benefit decisions, it decided 65-0 to overturn a state rule that requires fire sprinklers in two-unit townhomes. After a small change to the House version of the measure, which passed 124-0, it heads back to the House and probably on to Dayton for his signature.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said high costs to install sprinklers in twinhomes, which he said would be $7,000 to $15,000 per unit, drive people to other states that do not have such rules.

In Moorhead, he said, 46 townhomes were built in one year, but just two the next year after the sprinkler requirement began.

“We were driving many of those young families over to North Dakota,” he said. “Where they start is usually where they stay.”

No state that borders Minnesota has similar sprinkler rules that the Senate voted to overturn.

Also Thursday, Gazelka hosted a meeting with Dayton and Daudt to plan how to mesh their three visions of the state’s $46 billion, two-year budget.

While they apparently did not agree on specific issues or even how to proceed, they said the meeting was cordial.

Dayton said he wants the House and Senate to merge their budget bills, then his administration will get involved in negotiations. Gazelka and Daudt said they want Dayton and his commissioners to enter budget talks immediately.

While talking to reporters, Dayton on Thursday clarified his stance on transportation funding. On Tuesday, he told an interviewer that he will accept a Republican transportation funding plan that takes money from other programs. On Wednesday, his transportation commissioner said the governor still supports a new gasoline tax.

Dayton said on Thursday that while he would prefer a new gas tax, he knows it would not pass the Republican-controlled Legislature and that “I am not going to veto a transportation bill that is satisfactory in other respects just because it does not have a gas tax.”

In his own discussion with reporters, Daudt said he expects a public works funding bill to surface within days. He said it is important for the state to fund construction projects, such as fixing state-owned building.