Supporters of Local Control Overflow Hearing
More than 150 people packed an emotional hearing before a Minnesota House committee Thursday night, expressing concerns about a bill that would take local control away from local governments.
HF 600 would stop communities from creating standards that are stronger than the state’s and would prohibit them from passing measures that improve working conditions such as paid sick time, regular scheduling, raising the minimum wage and paid family leave. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, effectively killing off Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s paid sick and safe time policies.
AFSCME and our partners across the social justice and labor movements called on lawmakers Thursday night to protect democracy and stop this interference by powerful corporate interests.
“This is wrong for Minnesota,” AFSCME Council 5 legislative director Julie Bleyhl told lawmakers. “Local governments have the best knowledge of what their localities are able to provide to their residents.
“If local governments want to institute policies regarding these benefits, then they should be allowed to do so,” Bleyhl said. “If they do not wish to expand upon current benefits or institute new benefits, they do not have to. Local governments ought to have control over what policies they want in their localities.”
The Minnesota House committee passed the measure 13-9 on a party-line vote. A Senate committee is scheduled to consider a similar measure, SF 580, in the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 1150, at 1 p.m. Monday. Before the measure could become law, it would need approval by the full House and Senate, and the Governor would have to sign it, which is seen as unlikely.
Supporters largely represented business interests like the Minnesota Bankers Association, the Chamber of Commerce and various trade groups, saying they want laws to be the same across the state. Small business owners testified on both sides of the issue.
The bulk of the testimony was against the bill, coming from workers, city officials, labor leaders and residents.
“The vote to advance this bill is a vote to deny paid sick days to more than 150,000 working Minnesotans,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bill McCarthy. Passing the bill would send a message to citizens that their voices don’t matter and neither does local democracy.
Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Bender told legislators the law would undermine a local government’s ability to respond to local concerns. She said if legislators are truly concerned about having different laws in different municipalities, they should take a statewide approach and offer paid sick and safe time and paid family leave to all.
Worker Guillermo Lindsay of Saint Paul called the bill a “corporate power grab” that would make workers choose between caring for a sick child and their paychecks.
“If you take away this sick time policy, I won’t be able to take my son to the doctor,” Lindsay said.
Lisa Stratton, co-founder and senior counsel of Gender Justice, helped pass sick and safe time in Saint Paul.
“It’s an emotional thing to think that all of that work would be completely wiped out,” she said, as well as any future work that citizens want to do. There’s a broad section of the bill that would prevent any local efforts to improve benefits or working conditions. “Under the blunt instrument of this catch-all system, human rights and safety ordinances could never change into the future. That is not a good thing for our society or our democracy.”
When lawmakers halted the hearing for a 40-minute dinner break, despite objections from DFL legislators when so many people were waiting to testify, Mike Griffin with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change jumped up and invited everyone to a side rally. During the break, about 150 people including several DFLers packed a vacant hearing room nearby.
“We are here tonight to protect democracy, to protect the workers who won these benefits,” ISAIAH organizer Laura Johnson told the cheering crowd. “We are here because we’ve been winning. There are more of us than there are of them and if we keep showing up, we’re going to win.”
Back in the hearing room, opponents of local interference continued the protest silently, raising and waving sheets of paper showing a “thumbs up” in support of speakers.
“There is simply no virtue in uniform labor practices if they are uniformly bad,” Pastor Grant Stevenson said. Municipalities “are trying to move ahead of the state of Minnesota where it has been dragging its feet on doing its business for the men and women of this state. Let’s get real about what this is. It’s a power grab to move every bit of a pro-corporate agenda through this state while it’s possible.”
Several DFL legislators questioned why the GOP, which traditionally has said it supports local control, was against it now.
HF 600 is not the first attempt at the state and national level to take away local power. Last year, in Minnesota, industry lobbyists tried to pass a bill that would strip local governments of their authority to raise the minimum wage and provide better benefits and working conditions. Several states already have passed controversial bills like this, often under influence from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Learn more about local interference legislation - and why AFSCME opposes these laws - here.