DES MOINES — Members of a Senate panel were urged Monday to consider raising the state’s minimum wage before they take up a House-passed local pre-emption measure that would void pay levels in four counties that are higher than Iowa’s statewide wage floor.
However, Republicans on the Senate State Government subcommittee voted to press ahead with House File 295, a bill that would immediately bar local governments from usurping state authority in business and employment matters and the sale or marketing of consumer merchandise.
“The bill creates uniformity throughout the state when it comes to employment law, whether it be on wages, whether it be on leave or whether it would be on a whole host of hiring practices,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, one of two GOP senators who moved the bill to the full committee. “What we don’t want is what we’ve seen where certain counties have increased minimum wages.”
Opponents to the pre-emption bill, such as Ryan Arnold, senior minister at the First Christian Church in Des Moines, said they worry the bill would carry unintended consequences by rolling back scheduled pay raises for some families fighting to feed their families and stay off public assistance.
“I would ask you if it is true that this needs to happen, that you please wait to pass pre-emption until you’ve raised the minimum wage,” said Arnold, who noted that one in five Iowa children face food insecurity.
“We in the faith community are doing our best to ensure that no family starves in Iowa,” he said. “Please, will you join us and raise the minimum wage and bring people out of poverty?”
The legislation includes broad pre-emption language that blocks cities and counties from implementing policies that are at odds with state law, including setting minimum wages that exceed the state level of $7.25 an hour. If approved in the Senate and signed by Gov. Terry Branstad, the bill would nullify higher wage floors approved in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties.
Backers say the measure simply clarifies what’s in existing Iowa code and counties exceeded their authority by passing minimum wage increases.
Jessica Harder of the Iowa Association of Business & Industry said the bill would avoid a “patchwork” of county-by-county ordinances related to employment across the state while others worry the current arrangement would create uncompetitive conditions for businesses operating under different standards in different counties.
“This bill is flying in the face of local control,” countered Lucas Beenken of the Iowa State Association of Counties.
Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, the subcommittee chairman, said “there are certain things that the counties need to do and certain things the state needs to do,” and those statewide decisions include things like daylight saving time, speed limits, alcohol levels and the statewide minimum wage.
He said the House bill deals with re-establishing statewide legal certainty and uniformity.
“There has to be another bill that handles minimum wage, and this is not that bill,” he said.
The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 2009. Iowa adopted the same level when the 2007 Legislature passed and Gov. Chet Culver signed legislation increasing the minimum wage to $6.20 in April 2007 and to $7.25 in January 2008.
Branstad is on record as supporting “a modest” minimum wage increase for Iowa.