DES MOINES — Thousands of Iowans would get pay cuts if legislation introduced in the Iowa House is approved.
A GOP-led subcommittee Wednesday approved a bill banning local governments from increasing the minimum wage, a move that would reverse action taken by some of Iowa’s largest population counties.
The bill, introduced by Johnston Republican Jake Highfill, will be considered today by the House Local Government Committee.
The legislation would require cities and counties to abide by the state minimum hourly wage of $7.25. It would mean higher wages approved in Polk, Linn, Johnson and Wapello counties would be repealed.
It also bars local governments from addressing a host of other labor and civil rights issues.
The bill states it is the “intent” of lawmakers to increase the state minimum wage to 25 percent above the federal level, or $9.06 an hour, effective upon enactment.
Supporters of the bill say Iowa shouldn’t have a patchwork of wages, but others say local governments should be able to take action since the state hasn’t raised its minimum wage since 2009.
Business representatives Wednesday applauded the bill.
“We think there needs to be a clear policy across the state, not a patchwork,” said Jessica Harder, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business & Industry. She was joined by representatives of retailers, chambers of commerce and casinos.
“It’s kind of an inconsistent policy to have,” she added.
The proposal disappointed Black Hawk County Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who has spearheaded efforts to study a minimum-wage hike in that county since his November election. Supervisors have approved a committee to consider the issue but have not selected members to serve on it.
“I think this is more than just an assault on the ability of counties and municipalities to raise the minimum wage. This is really an assault of the whole concept of home rule,” Schwartz said.
He noted the proposal also prevents local governments from tackling other issues like paid leave or banning plastic bags, among others. It also forbids local civil rights ordinances that afford protections beyond those in state and federal law.
Schwartz also expressed surprise the bill says lawmakers intend to increase the state minimum wage to $9.06 an hour upon enactment. Increases typically are phased so businesses can plan for the adjustment.
“Elections have consequences, and one of the consequences now is that we have a state Legislature that seems ready to trample on the rights of local communities,” Schwartz said.
His sentiment was echoed by Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund.
“For folks who believe in small government and local control this makes absolutely no sense,” Ryan told the three-member House local government subcommittee.
She questioned why lawmakers were pushing civil rights law pre-emptions designed to protect “marginalized people in our state.”
“Why are you messing with the Iowa Civil Rights Act?” she asked.
Joe Fagan, a Des Moines resident who applauded Polk County supervisors for raising the county’s minimum wage to $10.75 by 2019, chastised legislators.
“You didn’t do anything for all these years. Now they did something, and now you’re here to take it away. The people who are poor, you’re acting like you want to keep them that way,” he said. “You finally did something by doing something bad.”
Johnson County was the first in the state to pass a minimum wage ordinance, which brought the local rate up to $10.10 last month. Future adjustments are possible.
Linn County’s minimum wage increased last month to $8.25 an hour, and is slated to increase to $9.25 next year and $10.25 in 2019.
Wapello County approved an increase to $10.10 in 2019.
Gary Grant, a lobbyist representing the city of Cedar Rapids, the Linn County supervisors and the Urban County Coalition, said the bill goes “far beyond” the minimum wage dispute.
“This could be viewed as a virtual elimination of home rule,” Grant told the subcommittee members.
Christinia Crippes of The Courier and Mitch Schmidt of The Gazette contributed to this story.