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Idaho Cities Blocked From Raising Minimum Wage

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Idaho cities, counties and local voters will not have the option to approve increases in the minimum wage in the absence of action at the state level. A legislative measure to block local minimum wage increases became law Tuesday.

It happened without Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's signature. According to his spokesman, Otter was "conflicted" about whether the state should block local increases in the minimum wage.

The governor acknowledged there are competing philosophies involving local control and a state interest to encourage uniformity when he was asked about this last month.

"You have got to remember this: Not only are cities, but counties are the creatures of the state. The state created every county in this state. The state created every city in this state," Otter told a gathering of the Idaho Press Club.

"There are legislative responsibilities as a result of us being the creator of those entities," he said.

The legislative measure to prevent a possible "checkerboard" of wage laws -- in the words of an Idaho Retailers Association lobbyist -- passed by veto proof margins. By not signing the bill, Otter signaled his unease, but it becomes law anyway.

Idaho's follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Earlier this month, Oregon's Legislature maintained its ban on local minimum wage increases when it phased in a significant wage boost statewide.

This winter, Republicans in the Washington Legislature tried, but failed, to block other Washington cities from going the way of Seattle, Tacoma and SeaTac in raising the minimum wage locally. That local preemption bill failed to advance in the closely-divided legislature.

A labor-backed initiative campaign is now gathering signatures to place a statewide minimum wage increase on Washington's November ballot. It would raise the current wage floor of $9.47 per hour up to $13.50 in several steps if approved by voters.

Last November, voters in the resort town of McCall, Idaho, narrowly rejected a minimum wage increase. McCall was the first, and now last, Idaho community to hold a public vote on this issue.

Otter has a second issue of local control and state preemption to decide. On Monday, the Idaho Legislature delivered to his desk a separate bill to prohibit cities and counties from banning plastic grocery bags or otherwise restricting take-out containers.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.