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Bill preempting cities from imposing business mandates passes

Small business

State lawmakers took two slaps at local governments in the name of business interests but, in the end, just couldn’t bring themselves to approve a third.

On a 34-20 margin the House gave final approval to HB 2579, which would bar cities, towns and counties from telling private employers what kind of fringe benefits they have to offer. That includes everything from sick time to maternity leave.

That sent the bill, already approved by the Senate, to Gov. Doug Ducey.

A separate 35-21 vote seeks to make it illegal to adopt local ordinances that limit the ability of private employers to set work schedules for their workers. HB 2191 is designed to stop communities here from adopting regulations like one in San Francisco which penalizes companies for changing the schedules within 14 days of the work day.

But the measure the employers most wanted fell three votes short of what was needed: Asking voters to overturn a provision of a 2006 initiative which allows cities, towns and counties to adopt their own “living wage” laws with salaries even higher than what the state requires.

HB 2191 was pushed by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

“We have a situation over the last several years in Arizona where municipalities want to interpose themselves into the workings of business,” he said, telling employers what they must pay and what benefits they have to provide. Now, Finchem said, some communities want to dictate scheduling matters.

“I think it’s high tide that we draw the line in the sand and we say, look, private enterprise can operate as private enterprise,” he said.

Finchem said it’s one thing if the federal government imposes certain limits nationally to protect workers. “This is simply a political subdivision meddling in the affairs of private business.”

Michelle Ahlmer, executive director of the Arizona Retailers Association, conceded no community in the state has yet tried to impose such regulations — yet. She said HB 2191 is designed to be “proactive.”

The more far-reaching measure is HB 2579.

It acknowledges the 2006 voter-approved initiative precludes lawmakers from preempting local living wage laws, at least for the time being. But it instead seeks to narrow the definition of exactly what are “wages” to include only the cash compensation paid.

More to the point, it defines what is not wages: everything from health insurance, sick pay and vacation time to maternity leave.

Chianne Hewer, lobbyist for the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, acknowledged to lawmakers the legislation is designed to short-circuit any move by any city to tell employers that they have to provide any of that.

Unlike the scheduling issue, the possibilities of that happening here absent legislation are more realistic.

In Tucson, for example, Councilwoman Regina Romero has advocated for an ordinance to make sick leave part of a “working family agenda,” something she said would help the working poor, especially mothers.

In a version of her plan discussed in Tucson, workers could begin accumulating paid sick leave after 90 days of employment, up to 56 hours per year at companies with 10 or more employees, and 40 hours a year at smaller firms.

While the Republican-controlled legislature had no problem approving those two measures, the proposal to preempt local minimum wages met with a different reaction.

It’s not that GOP lawmakers do not want to preclude a local option. Instead, the issue was how it would be done.

The problem is that the local option is part of the 2006 voter-approved initiative. That means any change would need to go to the ballot.

And Steve Chucri, the executive director of the restaurant group, conceded it needed a sweetener to get voter OK in November.

That sweetener was to boost the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2020. That’s a bit higher than what it would likely be under the existing law, where the current $8.05 an hour has to be adjusted annually for inflation.

The Republican lawmakers who run their own businesses urged colleagues to approve the deal, even with the sweetener.

One of them was Rep. Jeff Weninger, a Chandler Republican. He is part owner of a firm that runs Dilly’s Deli which has several sandwich shops as well as Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.

Weninger said he is in fear of efforts like the initiative drive in Flagstaff. It seeks to require employers to pay at least $15 an hour by 2021.

Residents of other communities are also looking at similar measures. Weninger said that has to be stopped — even if it means having the legislature enact a minimum wage higher than what’s already on the books.

“There’s a tipping point where all of a sudden a sandwich is $13, that you’re just going to pack a bologna sandwich,” he said.

But the proposal fell short as several Republicans found the plan unacceptable.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he would have supported a measure that simply asked voters to repeal the law allowing communities to adopt their own living wages.

“But this bill is too cute by half,” he said, trying to appeal to voters by forcing employers to pay even more than the state now requires, even just a little bit.

“I’m sorry,” Allen said.”I’m never going to vote to increase a minimum wage.”

When the preliminary vote tally showed the measure coming up three votes short, most Republicans, not wanting to be on record as supporting a wage hike, quickly bailed. That left the final vote for HCR 2014 at just 6 Republicans and no Democrats in support.

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