Iowa sets precedent with "First in the Nation" law lowering the minimum wage

Matt Chapman comments on an important bill finalized this week. For what it’s worth, I do not believe Jake Highfill’s claim that Governor Terry Branstad supports a $10 an hour minimum wage. Branstad has expressed support for “a modest increase over a period of time.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

An unfortunate precedent was set when Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 295 on Thursday.

Although 23 Republican-controlled states “now preempt local efforts to increase the minimum wage,” this week Iowa became the “first state government in the U.S. to take away raises from low-wage workers who already received them,” according to the National Employment Law Project.

“Around 29,000 Iowans in Johnson and Linn counties, whose pay increased under local laws, could see their wages cut from $10.10 in Johnson County and $8.25 in Linn County to the state minimum of $7.25 per hour. Another 36,000 workers in Polk County who were about to see their pay increase to at least $8.75 starting tomorrow [April 1], will have those raises snatched away. All told, more than 85,000 workers in Johnson, Linn, Wapello, Polk, and Lee Counties will be denied scheduled raises to between $10 and $10.75 in the next few years.

Five Iowa county governments tried to bring the minimum wage closer to a living wage, because the state’s wage has been stagnant at $7.25 since 2007. The Republican reasoning for blocking local action was that a “patchwork” of regulations across the state would be inconvenient for business.

I have been lobbying GOP State Representative Jake Highfill since this session started, and he has assured me that he and the governor are on board with a $10 an hour minimum wage and the drafting of that bill is in process.

It was encouraging to hear the governor say earlier this year that he wanted to raise the minimum wage as well. The Des Moines Register reported on March 27,

Branstad has expressed an openness to consider separate legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to a level that would be competitive with surrounding states. But Republican legislative leaders have not taken any steps this session to raise Iowa’s minimum wage. They say they are focused on developing a business-friendly environment to create additional good-paying jobs and to provide education and training to fill vacant positions.

The purpose of House File 295, creating a uniform statewide minimum wage, has been fulfilled.

A big step to assist the working poor in Iowa would be to increase the bottom line for wages and putting a little extra money in their pocket to spend in their communities.

This would also help some of Iowa’s struggling communities as 70 counties have lost population over recent years.

I am hopeful that this “first in the nation to cut the working poor’s wages” can be eclipsed by a raise in their wages that would bring relief to a struggling portion of Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens.

Here is a letter that I emailed and also had a copy of placed on the desk of seven lawmakers on Wednesday, March 29.

Hello Representative Highfill

I sat in the Senate balcony Monday night and I’m sure you understand my positions on the minimum wage and less educated folks who live in poverty. And I am pretty banged up from working as well so it was kind of like a double gut punch when the restrictions on workmen’s compensation went through as well.

But I am a glass half full guy so I wanted to share a bit of sunlight I saw on an otherwise overcast feeling day today.

In the Des Moines Register the coverage of Monday night’s Senate vote ended with this paragraph.

(Gov) “Branstad has expressed an openness to consider separate legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to a level that would be competitive with surrounding states. But Republican legislative leaders have not taken any steps this session to raise Iowa’s minimum wage. They say they are focused on developing a business-friendly environment to create additional good-paying jobs and to provide education and training to fill vacant positions.

A lot of folks feel like they have been hurt by some of the laws that passed through this session and this is one place that people who live in poverty could be helped. The problem that was presented Monday night was one of uniformity in wages across the in state borders has been resolved.

Senator Chelgren expressed a willingness to work on raising the amount of income that the working poor could make and still be eligible for aid. As he actually is the Representative of a county that has one of the biggest per-capita amount of citizens that benefit from these programs hearing that last night was a glimmer of hope.

I know you are drafting a minimum wage bill for ten dollars an hour. Every time I see you I pester you like a damn mosquito about it. And when folks roll their eyes at me when I bring it up I tell them to quit throwing shade. Because I’m a glass half full guy.

I’m going to also share this with Representative [Rob] Taylor, House Minority leader Mark Smith, Senators Schneider, Chelgren, Zaun and Senate Minority leader Rob Hogg.

(Don’t worry if you accidentally delete this message as I will be up tomorrow and I will have a page give a hard copy to all of you)

I look forward to seeing this legislation and I believe it will be written in a way that it will pass. And I appreciate your compassion for these folks.

Thanks for listening and being willing to help.

Matt Chapman

Dallas County resident Matt Chapman closely follows Iowa legislative affairs.

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