A State Reconsiders Its Ban on Local Minimum Wage Laws

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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Cities and counties would be allowed to set a wage floor higher than the one authorized by Colorado if a bill passed by state legislators becomes law.

Colorado lawmakers have approved a measure that would reverse the state’s 20-year-old law prohibiting cities from setting a local minimum wage.

The National Employment Law Project said Colorado is the first state poised to repeal a law preempting local authority on minimum wages mandates. Twenty-eight states prohibit local governments from raising the minimum wage within their jurisdictions, according to a 2018 report by the National League of Cities. 

When Colorado in 1999 blocked local governments from setting a wage, the state followed the federal minimum wage (set right now at $7.25), according to the NELP. But that changed over the years and in 2016 voters passed a ballot measure that has slowly increased the wage floor in the state, which is currently at $11.10 an hour. It will reach $12 by 2020.

House Bill 1210, which was sent to Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, on Friday at the end of the state’s legislative session, does have some caveats. For example, senators last month added a stipulation that once 10 percent of local governments approve a higher minimum wage than the state one, there would have to be a moratorium on more until the General Assembly can again consider the issue. And any approved increases would need to be phased in.

Polis’ office did not return a phone call about the proposal, but TheDenverChannel.com reported that the governor has signaled his support for the bill. The reversal on the minimum wage comes as Colorado this year shifted to a General Assembly with both a House and Senate led by Democratic majorities

Proponents of local control over the minimum wage say it makes sense because housing costs and other expenses can vary widely in a state. The initial campaigns to enact $15 minimum wages came from cities—with Seattle leading the way—although six states have now enacted their own wage floors at that level.

“Voters across the political spectrum support local control and this bill will allow cities and counties to decide a local minimum wage that makes sense for them,” said Lizeth Chacon, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, in a news release.

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce, however, had opposed the measure. Loren Furman, a senior vice president with the chamber, said during an initial hearing on the bill that businesses will face a nightmare having to comply with the different wage floor mandates of different jurisdictions.

“Let’s start with the likelihood of a worker employed for one company but who changes shifts in different jurisdictions around the State?  How does a business know what to pay that worker who is moving around?” she said in prepared testimony

The legislation would allow local governments in a region to form a compact to establish a regional wage.

In March, the city of Denver approved a $15 minimum wage for government employees, which is allowed under current law. That pay increase will be phased in through July 2021.

Laura Maggi is Managing Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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