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Statewide preemption: The most dangerous bill you’ve never heard of

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Minnesota State Capitol

Last Thursday, Feb. 2, a basement hearing room of the State Office Building was packed. The overflow room was overflowing, so a third room had to be opened (and was soon filled too). Starting at 4:09 p.m. the hearing ran till almost 9 p.m. as one testifier after another weighed in on House File 600, an innocuous-sounding restriction on local government authority.

Chris Conry

What was this new proposal? And why the passion? The bill was a “statewide preemption” proposal designed to strip local governments of their authority to improve state or federal workplace standards. Why the urgency? Because on July 1 of this year, over 150,000 people in Minneapolis and Saint Paul are due to start receiving earned sick and safe time, a paid benefit that would allow them to take time off when sick or dealing with domestic violence. To stop this, the state’s most powerful industry lobbyists lined up to argue to repeal now and restrict forever local control.

New bill, old strategy

In Minnesota, this is a relatively new proposal, but it’s a very old strategy. First introduced in 2015, preemption was heard once and then resuscitated during special session negotiations in 2016. But its origins go back much further. Preemption laws are the latest version of a pernicious strategy: changing the rules as soon as they actually start to work for people of color, women, immigrants or the working poor.

Minnesota’s cities are permitted to act to promote the general welfare or protect the health of the people in their city limits, unless state or federal law preempts those powers. Neither the Minnesota Legislature nor the U.S. Congress have enacted a sick time standard or forbidden cities to do it themselves. In fact, 31 U.S. cities (and 2 counties), including Minneapolis and St. Paul, have enacted their own sick time ordinances. Every legal challenge to this basic municipal powers (in states without preemption laws) has failed.

American history is filled with powerful moments of democratic innovation. It’s also full of cringe-inducing overreactions. Again and again, people of color, women, immigrants, and poor Americans innovate new forms of political power. Unions are formed, new political parties are organized, the franchise is expanded, new organizing tactics are deployed. The sit-down strike. The mass boycott. Contentious objection. Letter writing campaigns. Occupations. Flash mobs. Tweetstorms. And all variations of shall-not-be-moved-ness. It’s part politics, part theater, and pure invention. It’s an engine of American history.

The most recent of these chapters is being written in our cities and is being led by women, people of color, immigrants, and the working poor. And like many previous chapters, the powers-that-be are trying to change the rules once they are used to threaten the status quo.

The great-great grandfather of this strategy is, of course, the Jim Crow system. As recently freed slaves started to gain power in the Reconstruction era, the rules were changed. Poll taxes, poll tests, property requirements and myriad other new rules disenfranchised and disempowered African-Americans for generations.

The Taft-Hartley Act

After the New Deal era, as the union movement expanded its organizing in the South, Republicans made common cause with Dixiecrats to pass the Taft-Hartley Act. This law rolled back the already compromised Wagner Act by allowing states to outlaw union shops and prohibit sympathy strikes and secondary boycotts.

As blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans led the U.S. kicking and screaming through the civil rights era, the rules were tightened again. The successes of child advocacy, welfare rights, and public-interest law organizations were answered by changes to tax laws that restricted their ability to exercise certain forms of political power, like influencing the legislative process.

More significantly, since the mid-1970s the mass incarceration system has ballooned — disproportionately robbing men of color not just of their freedom, but also of their access to jobs and the right to vote.

Since 2000, as the electoral power of people of color became more clear, it’s no coincidence that voter restriction laws, like Minnesota’s proposed 2012 state constitutional amendment, took off. They’ve proliferated even more rapidly since 2008 when the “Obama Coalition” of people of color, women, young people, unions, and progressives won a national election.

A spreading reaction to victories

In the last 10 years, regular people have been winning big victories in cities: in particular, sick time and minimum wage improvements. What’s been the reaction? Preemption laws. Where did they start? The South and the states run by ambitious, right-wing governors. Georgia in 2004. Wisconsin in 2011. Louisiana in 2012. Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee in 2013. Alabama and Oklahoma in 2014. Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon in 2015. And North Carolina and Arizona in 2016.

Statewide preemption is a shameful attempt by powerful corporate interests to stop regular people from enacting popular laws using legitimate democratic processes. It is a reactionary, oppressive measure: end of story. We owe it to ourselves, our cities, and our future to make sure this chapter of Minnesota’s history, the one we are writing, does not include even a footnote on preemption.

Chris Conry is the strategic campaigns director at TakeAction Minnesota.


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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Keppen Daniel on 02/08/2017 - 11:14 am.

    Greater MN GOP must really hate the cities

    When MN GOP legislators take time out of their day to write legislation that does not impact their constituents and instead only prevents residents (and workers employed in) Minneapolis and Saint Paul from sick leave, you really have to wonder if they have sound reasoning beyond hating the twin cities and their liberal residents.

    I recall reading an article elsewhere that mentioned a bill introduced by a GOP rep from Farmington who wanted to require cyclists in urban areas to attend a class in order to be granted a permit to bike in bike lanes. I thought the GOP was the party of less regulation, of letting people take responsibility for themselves, the party of local control. I guess I was wrong.

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 02/08/2017 - 11:46 am.

    We had several fights against premption…

    …while working to get a statewide smoking ban passed. We got all groups working for healthy indoor workplaces to agree that under no circumstances would we accept a statewide bill that stripped away counties and cities right to bass stronger measures, if they wished.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/08/2017 - 11:48 am.

    On the threat of providing better working conditions for hourly wage earners, the GOP is taking instructions fro the Deep Pocketed folks in big business.

    It is business that has failed at any voluntary attempts to better the lives of their lowest-paid workers: it is business that has failed to initiate any state-wide legal improvements to workers’ lives by establishing a state-wide paid sick leave, a state-wide prohibition of businesses stealing their workers’ wages, a state-wide prohibition of abusive worker scheduling practices, or state-wide improvements to a 21st-century minimum wage level.

  4. Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/08/2017 - 01:40 pm.

    The Rent and Price Increase Preemption Act

    Imagine the howling, outrage, hot calls to representatives, the Governor, the media, the attorneys, the whole wide world IF the state legislature was on the verge of passing a law (on to a like-minded Governor) that would make it illegal for any rental property owner, or business that sold products to Minnesotans, to raise rents or the price of the products they sold without first getting the state legislature’s approval.

    “We can NOT allow renters and consumers to continue to be FORCED to try to keep track of, or try to make heads or tails of, the totally out of control patchwork of rents and prices that are plaguing our state!” proponents of the Rent and Price Preemption Act would say. “In order to protect renter’s and consumer’s economic well-being, growth and their ability to continue to create productivity gains, this bill MUST become law. I urge you to vote YES!”

    And, speaking of the way in which, “since the mid-1970s the mass incarceration system has ballooned — disproportionately robbing men of color not just of their freedom, but also of their access to jobs and the right to vote,” imagine the increase in the Howl and Gnashing of Teeth level if a “friendly amendment” was tacked onto the Rent and Price Increase Preemption Act that said any rental property owner, business owner or chairperson of a corporation charged with being in violation of this law SHALL be charged with Felony Theft and, if convicted, SHALL pay restitution equal to the amount of overcharge determined by the State Auditor’s Office, or $10,000, whichever is greater, and SHALL be sentenced to incarceration in a Minnesota Correctional Facility for no less than one year without consideration of, or allowance made for, prior time-served; and there SHALL be no consideration of parole before the first year of sentence is served.

    Sound absurd? Leave out the (too much to hope for) Felony conviction part of the equation, hold House File 600 up to the mirror of reality and that’s about the size of what Republicans and their primary donors are in the process of trying to jam down the throats of almost ALL 5.5 MILLION Minnesotans in order to benefit the comparatively tiny handful of members (fewer than 500,000) of Minnesota’s “business community.”

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/08/2017 - 03:00 pm.

    A great deal of sound and fury

    So, how about some substance?

    Lay out the advantages and disadvantages of local power over wages and working conditions.

    I oppose legislation on such things as paid time off, work scheduling, and most other terms of employment other than a minimum wage, not because I’m a corporate shill but because I think workers are better served by organizing and bargaining than relying on politicians to serve their interests.

    What government gives, government can revoke. What it establishes as a political compromise will create the norm and rarely change.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is the easy route. You’re selling yourselves short.

    • Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 02/08/2017 - 10:11 pm.

      Au contrare….

      Let’s think for a minute about the consequences of the local ordinances. First, a better wage allows the workers to not live so deep in debt and poverty, allows the cities to take people off local welfare assistance and pass the cost to consumers who use the city and its resources. This shifts the cost of providing support to people from government to consumers in the city, Including people from outside the city who come in to town to go to restaurants, see plays, movies or sport events.

      As a result, welfare roles are reduced at the cost of a modest rise in prices. Don’t like the regulations, don’t come into the city.

      Sounds like a pretty free market solution to me, and it allows local control. Wonder why Republicans hate it so much?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/13/2017 - 05:27 pm.


      Go the organized Union route.

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/08/2017 - 06:27 pm.

    The substance is clear. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have begun the legal process to provide worker benefits that businesses will not. They have already passed ordinances that require businesses to let their employees accumulate paid sick days (up to a limit) if that employee works at least 80 hours per year in the city of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Both cities are currently developing ordinances to raise the minimum wage.

    Those are the facts (read the ordinances for the detailed provisions, all in legalese).

    The legislature is currently bending to the will of business by moving on a bill to prohibit any city in Minnesota from establishing any worker benefits within their own borders. Only the state, under this proposed legislation, will be able to set minimum wages, any paid leave policies, any rule prohibiting employer-theft of workers wages, or establish fair scheduling of workers.

    This ties the hands of any municipality from addressing abuses of their work forces by business. The bill will outlaw ordinances already passed and outlaw any future attempt by Minnesota cities to go beyond state-wide provisions for workers. It’s an angry reaction to worker-fairness activism in our cities and benefits only business. Not workers in our large urban centers.

    The bill was initiated by business lobbyists. Read the newspapers–even the Star Tribune, which is editorially against workers’ rights in Minneapolis, has reported the facts on the local ordinances and (shallowly) the legislature’s move to preclude these cities helping their workers.

    Unions? Haven’t you heard how hard it has become even for janitors and cleaners, nurses, and even public employees, to join together in Minnesota to bargain for fair treatment?

  7. Submitted by Mark Larson on 02/09/2017 - 09:44 am.

    Local Initiatives Mean Innovation and Competitiveness

    Let’s keep it simple. The ability of towns, cities and states to innovate to improve the environment, economy, or citizens’ health and living standard has been crucial to progress for decades. Suppressing it can lead to Minnesota falling behind other prosperous well-educated states in retaining and attracting the skilled, creative, diverse workforce we rely on.
    Forces that once espoused “local control” or “states’ rights” have now done a 180 and advocate centralized power that suppresses grass roots democratic initiatives and individual freedom. At the same time they often infringe on federally-guaranteed voting rights, clean air and water laws, etc.. In this new period we see states like Wisconsin systematically taking away local and individual autonomy, even state universities’ independence. Note – Sadly, Wisconsin’s living standard continues to lag behind.
    Thoughtful Minnesotans should champion vigorous bottom-up democracy – while respecting long-standing American civil rights, worker, constitutional and environmental protections.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/09/2017 - 02:05 pm.

    Once size doesn’t fit all…

    Unless it’s a small size… dictated by the state… then top down big guvment is grand ol idea.

  9. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/09/2017 - 06:53 pm.

    And if

    Local governments want to restrict the number and type of banks, businesses, rental properties, churches, etc., they should be allowed to.. They could insist that no (other than State and Federal) minimum wages, paid time off, family leave time septic systems, rail lines, etc., be allowed within their borders. Local control is indeed a powerful and worthwhile tool.

  10. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/09/2017 - 08:24 pm.

    I understand uniformity …

    however I do agree with most responders that that is not what is at play in the GOP legislature. They are a spiteful cruel bunch unwilling to deal with the cost of living differences between rural and urban living areas. So the democratic process is being abridged by these legislators. Interesting how this group is inversing the arguments for a state wide smoking ban to again protect business interests. If chambers of commerce sand their lobbying groups paid workers as they are paid in other civilized nations these discussions would not even be engaged. America is becoming more and more that land of the “bullies” top down using anti regulation to maintain their personal power in their backyards.

  11. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 02/10/2017 - 09:29 am.

    Lack of Understanding

    This article, and most of the comments, are all showing just pie in the sky mentality, including the usual shameless attacks with zero facts on what is really going on. Talk about bullying? Geez.
    The reason this came up so quickly in the Legislature is that what Minneapolis is trying to pass attempts to reach out beyond it’s city limits. This is not right to companies outside of Minneapolis. The complexity of what they are trying to pass actually causes much more costs for companies to comply, even if they are not in Minneapolis. Then add another case of what St. Paul is trying to adds more and more complexity because now there are several different jurisdictions that businesses (both large AND small) have to deal with. Because of this, there are many in the Legislature see this as very problematic for those firms that are providing jobs. Simple logic tells you the more complex the playing field, the more it costs to maintain a business. It’s not fair to those that risk their lives and give opportunity to others only to have more things shoved down their throats, especially under the guise of social justice as the writer tries to explain.
    The biggest catch to all of this is that the harder you make it for a business to do business, the less of it you will have. That means less opportunities for those this article tries to hold up because you drive businesses to fail or leave. If a person does not like the benefits they get from a job, they can leave it for another. To have the government forcefully make demands of those that provide opportunities is the shameful part, and Minneapolis is taking a huge lead on this.
    Yes, people should make as much as they can. But the entitlement mentality is sad.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/10/2017 - 01:14 pm.


      “the usual shameless attacks with zero facts”

      I’m not sure which facts your comment contained unless your definition of facts includes points like:

      “Simple logic tells you the more complex the playing field, the more it costs to maintain a business.”

      If that’s a fact then the converse would also be one: The less complex it is the lower the cost.

      Unfortunately, it seems to have been the case for the past 35 years that no matter WHAT the “circumstances of complexity” for businesses, no matter how much less it costs business owners to do business (see: lower and lower tax rates for business owners and investors) and no matter how big the productivity gains and profits may be, businesses have been extremely reluctant to share ANY of those gains with anyone considered to be in the middle class or among the working poor — the very people who have helped produce those productivity gains and profits (see: fact miners like Pew Research on income and wealth distribution since 1980).

      “It’s not fair to those that risk their lives and give opportunity to others”

      What? Risk their lives? How so? By getting up every day and driving to an office? Talking on the phone? Having (business) lunches and attending meetings? Please elaborate.

      “The biggest catch to all of this is that the harder you make it for a business to do business, the less of it you will have. That means less opportunities for those this article tries to hold up because you drive businesses to fail or leave.”

      Now THERE’S the most often-repeated fact we hear anytime anything business interests don’t like comes up.

      In this case, we can’t raise the minimum wage or provide things like paid time off (or just plain time off) from work when your child needs to go to the hospital or you’ve got a 101-degree fever and have been vomiting for the past couple days because businesses will go under or leave the state which will hurt the very people these idiotic ideas are intended to help.

      As to all that vast and insurmountable complexity that would crush, crush, crush business and jobs, the thing I keep thinking is that anyone who actually believes that should spend a few minutes thinking about — and maybe even looking into — how companies like, say, Uber or “Air B and B” deal with that kind of thing:

      “Uber’s latest round of funding, which T. Rowe took part in, was thought to value the ride-hailing company at $62.5 billion. Airbnb raised a $1.5 billion round last summer—one that T. Rowe was also involved in—which lifted its valuation to $25.5 billion.”

      “In 2015, Uber doubled the number of active drivers on its platform in the U.S. as it’s grown.

      “Last month, the ride-hailing company had 327,000 active drivers on the road in the U.S., more than doubling the 160,000 that gave rides in December 2014.”

      “With its services now offered in more than 65 countries and over 450 cities worldwide, Uber has been undergoing one of the mobile app industry’s fastest global expansions.”

      I hope those things qualify as “facts” in your book, but when it comes to the topic at hand (preventing ALL communities in MN from making their own decisions because it would be too complicated and costly for businesses to cope with), it’s that last one that is probably most germane:

      65 countries —

      450 cities —

      Worldwide —

      And you’re telling me that Hanson Plumbing or Risers Construction or Whatever, Inc., isn’t capable of figuring out how to deal with the complexity involved in one or more of their employees doing X number of hours of work in areas B, C, and Y on such and such a day and what that would amount to in terms of book-keeping?

      If having to do that would, as you say, cause businesses to fail or leave the state, then maybe them failing or leaving the state wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

      And, speaking of facts, here’s a related question for you that can be easily answered with one very simple fact: What was the last year in which Republicans in the Legislature wrote, introduced, advocated and voted for legislation to raise the minimum wage or provide any additional paid personal, parental or family leave for employees?

  12. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/10/2017 - 12:48 pm.

    We’re not talking entitlements here at all!

    If a company that regularly sends its employees to a Minneapolis location to work but can’t somehow figure out how many hours those employees work in Minneapolis (rather than in Plymouth, say, or Stillwater), then they had better get someone more competent to handle their employee compensation plan. This is not rocket science, and if those companies would rather forego doing business at all in Minneapolis than figure our sick leave or minimum wages, they can do so.

    And, be reminded: this bill has been in the works since last year, when Minneapolis first established plan to require paid sick leave of some minimal sort, for people who work in the city. It was big downtown businesses who took up the cudgel against workers and our urban centers of so much commerce.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/13/2017 - 05:56 pm.

      Of Course

      Entitlement – the fact of having a right to something

      Of course these are entitlements, in fact I think that was the sales pitch. “Workers are entitled to a living wage, sick time, fixed schedules, etc…”

      Now I disagree with the idea of pre-emption, but I also think Mpls and St Paul are going to push many employers out of their cities. Along with the jobs that are needed there. So maybe the GOP is actually trying to protect the citizens of these cities. Maybe they fear that they will start looking like downtown Detroit after awhile.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/14/2017 - 01:29 pm.

        Not so sure about that

        If there is business to be had, there are businesses ready to take up the business. Minneapolis and St. Paul are growing cities, reversing the decline of decades of urban sprawl. And, you know who is increasingly living in urban centers? Young professionals with big paychecks, no cars, and a desire to have high quality things and experiences. What smart business person is going to turn that down? But, there are business people who want their cake and eat it too. They want the young professionals. They want to raise the price in accordance to the expectations of young professionals. But they want it to be pure profit. I don’t think the downtowns will turn into Detroit. Detroit is a big place and failed for lots of reasons that aren’t shared by the Twin Cities. It’s not a fair comparison. And, any foolish business that wants to forgo the business of these young, well-paid professionals for the principle of not having to treat workers like people is cutting their nose off to spite their face.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/14/2017 - 05:23 pm.


          So if the future is so bright, we need to wear shades. Why are the Minneapolis and St Paul school districts 2 of the most challenged in the State?

          You are correct that there are many successful neighborhoods in the 2 cities. However you seem to be in denial about all of the less than desirable neighborhoods.

          One of my co-workers loved living in their trendy downtown condo until they had kids until they had kids. Now they live in west Maple Grove…

          Now I am fine with Mpls / St Paul raising the cost of doing business there. I only ask the folks who are proposing it to go in with their eyes wide open.

          If you operated a Mom and Pop liquor store in N Mpls and were facing the increased costs of operation… Would you stay or move a couple of mile to Fridley, Columbia Heights, St Anthony, etc?

  13. Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/10/2017 - 01:45 pm.

    By the way . . .

    I keep thinking everyone in MN is aware of this, but just in case . . .

    This is a pure ALEC bill.

    “Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.”

    The “model legislation” this bill is based on, ALEC’s “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act,” is located right here:

    Its summary says:

    “The Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act repeals any local ‘living wage’ mandates, ordinances or laws enacted by political subdivisions of the state. It also prohibits political subdivisions from enacting laws establishing ‘living wage’ mandates on private businesses, including those businesses that have service contracts with and/or receive financial assistance from such political subdivisions of state government.”

    Sound familiar?

    MN House File 600 is located right here:

    Give it a quick read (it’s short) and see if you think HF 600 fulfills ALEC’s objectives.

    Pat Garofalo is the author of HF 600.

    Pat Garofalo is not only a card-carrying member of ALEC, he’s ALEC’s “State Chair” (their Main Man) in the MN House.

    What do ALEC State Chairs do? Among other things:

    “Each ALEC State Chairman shall appoint a Private Sector State Chairman to serve concurrently with the State Chairman . . . State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, WORKING TO INSURE INTRODUCTION OF MODEL LEGISLATION, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative ‘scholarship’ funds.”

    While nothing about House File 600 will benefit the vast majority of Pat Garofalo’s constituents or the vast majority of Minnesotans (90% or more would not only NOT benefit, but would lose even MORE income and wealth accumulation ground) that “representational” aspect of things seems to be just so much water off ducks backs to the bill’s author and House and Senate Republicans.

    But never mind that. The organizations that run ALEC want Living Wage Mandate Preemption passed into law in every state in the USA, they’ve issued their marching orders and, apparently, their MN legislative supporters and State Chairs are obediently doing everything they can to deliver.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/15/2017 - 09:23 am.

    Well OK but…

    Dayton’s going to veto this if it passes and republicans don’t have the votes to override the veto. So this is just another example of republicans wasting a huge amount of time on doomed legislation rather than doing their jobs and working on something like… oh I don’t know… the budget? Isn’t it?

    As for the policy itself, obviously it’s just a giveaway for employers who are currently enjoying taxpayer subsidies for their poverty wages. Now that we’ve demolished labor unions and any chance at collective bargaining the struggle for workers rights and living wages moves into direct legislation for living wages and appropriate benefits. I remind everyone that it’s a basic principle of market theory in a capitalist economy that any business that doesn’t earn enough revenue to pay it’s expenses is simply not a viable business model. Living wages are simply a business expense like any other business expense. The idea that we should prop up failed business models with government subsidies or that owners are entitled to line their own pocket with their employee’s wages isn’t neither good business or good economics.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/15/2017 - 10:31 am.


      You are correct that Dayton will likely Veto it. That is unless the GOP offers something he wants more during the negotiation.

      As for who gets the subsidy… Since businesses just pass “typical everyone has them” costs on to their consumers. I personally think it is us consumers who are being “subsidized” by low wages.

      Just as we are when we buy goods that are made in a low cost country to save a few bucks, get something more in style, better quality, etc.

      Just think of all the folks who are flooding Amazon, Total Wine and Spirits, etc to save a few bucks at the expense of our local businesses that provide local jobs. I think we need to face it that our consumers are pure capitalists when they go shopping.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/15/2017 - 01:04 pm.

        We’ve discussed this before

        “As for who gets the subsidy… Since businesses just pass “typical everyone has them” costs on to their consumers. I personally think it is us consumers who are being “subsidized” by low wages.”

        When economist run the numbers they find that living wages would produce little if any inflationary pressure on the economy and that vast majority of Americans say they think employers, not taxpayers should pay employee wages. We’re not making a choice between having affordable stuff or poverty wages, we can have affordable stuff and living wages.

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