Republican lawmakers in the Louisiana House on Thursday blocked a bid to give municipalities the authority to set their own minimum wage rates, stalling the latest legislative effort to move base pay in the state above the $7.25-per-hour federal level.
The proposal by Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, sought to reverse a state law passed in 1997 that prohibited parishes and cities from setting local minimum wage rates.
His bill also would have allowed local governing authorities to establish paid leave requirements for businesses, such as setting a minimum number of vacation or sick leave days that companies must offer workers operating within their boundaries.
“These pre-emption laws undermine our democracy because they tell local government that we don’t trust you and we don’t respect you,” Duplessis said.
He couldn’t gain traction for the measure in the House labor committee, which voted 9-6 to shelve Duplessis’ legislation. Democrats supported the proposal, but Republicans voted in a bloc against the bill, siding with business organizations that opposed it.
Representatives of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry said the legislation could damage the state’s economy.
Dawn Starns, NFIB state director, said Louisiana’s economy lags the nation in growth and employment levels. She said forced wage increases would exacerbate job losses, and she said creating a patchwork of regulations across parishes would be burdensome to small businesses.
“We do not think government interference in the market to determine wage levels is appropriate,” said Jim Patterson, with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
He said Louisiana’s neighboring states don’t allow municipalities to set minimum wage rates.
Duplessis suggested business organizations call for state-level regulatory authority when it suits them, while supporting local authority over zoning rules and economic development incentives.
“Cities can give away incentives every day, and I’ve never heard you argue against patchwork in that regard,” he told Starns and Patterson.
The bill aimed to work around repeated legislative defeats for boosting Louisiana’s statewide minimum wage above the $7.25-per-hour federal level. A statewide minimum wage hike proposal awaits debate on the Senate floor. Despite backing from Gov. John Bel Edwards, it’s unlikely to reach final passage, with similar measures rejected by lawmakers over the last three years.
Duplessis argued the cost of living varies around Louisiana and local elected officials should have the ability to decide the level that seems reasonable for their communities. The city councils in New Orleans and Shreveport backed the bill. But supporters of the proposal talked of wanting a minimum wage boost.
“We’re the ones who have to sit up and wonder what we’re going to eat,” said Gaylor Spiller, president of the Jefferson Parish chapter of the NAACP. “We are living in hard times, and it’s very important that this bill is passed.”
Republican Rep. Jack McFarland, a business owner from Winnfield, said he’s laid off workers because federal regulations are driving up his costs. “We must be very careful when government starts getting involved in private business,” he said.
Duplessis responded in his closing speech: “If government hadn’t gotten involved at some point, we’d probably still have kids working in sweatshops for $2 or less.”