Recently, “local interference” laws, which prevent local governments from setting higher standards than state law, have popped up in a number of states. These have ranged from a law in Alabama that bars a higher minimum wage than the state’s, to a very harmful law in North Carolina that bans local governments from implementing protections for discrimination because of “race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex” that differ from state law.
Essentially, local interference policies undermine the ability of local governments, like cities or counties, to meet the needs of their constituents, and they take away this authority from the very leaders who are most familiar with their communities.
While the state plays an important role in setting baseline standards, cities have historically had the power to enact higher standards in the best interest of their residents. Just as states can go beyond federal minimum standards, cities and counties at times do the same for their communities.
Take the minimum wage for example. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but in 2014, Minnesota policymakers agreed that the wage floor in our state should be higher and that workers at large employers should earn at least $9.00 an hour (set to increase to $9.50 later this summer). Similarly, some local governments have set higher minimum wages to account for the higher cost of living in their areas. This has been done in cities, including Chicago, Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, which have raised wages so that workers in their cities can better make ends meet.
Local governments also choose to improve the health and general welfare of their residents. This has included expanding access to earned sick leave as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Spokane, Wash., have done and Minneapolis is considering doing. These cities have taken important steps to ensure that their residents are better able to come into work healthy and not lose wages when they need to take time off of work to care for themselves. This not only helps workers, but also benefits local businesses which experience lower turnover and training costs.
Last session, the threat of local interference came to Minnesota in a House provision that would have prohibited local governments from passing higher minimum wages, leave policies, scheduling policies, or any required employer benefit higher than the state’s minimum standards. Local interference was rightly not included in the final economic development budget legislation that passed last year, and it should not be included in negotiations this year.