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Minimum wage bill strikes out in Senate committee

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The ongoing battle over cities attempting to increase the minimum wage got batted around at the Capitol this week.

A bill to exempt minor league baseball players from minimum wage requirements in state law got a hearing in the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee on Monday. It would add the 24-player Saints roster to a list of 19 exemptions to the state’s minimum wage law.

Described as a “fairly simple bill” by its chief author, St. Paul DFLer Dick Cohen, it sparked a nearly hour-long grapple over the $15 an hour minimum wage, enacted last year by Minneapolis and a top item on St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s agenda.

Democrats on the committee asked whether the Saints baseball team -- beneficiaries of major state and city subsidies for their new stadium -- were trying to preempt the city’s ongoing discussion about minimum wage, and possibly set a precedent for other so-called “carve outs” from local wage laws.

Cohen said that wasn’t the case. “The Saints approached me because of what concerns of what has happened in California, which is certainly viewed as very much of a pro labor state, and the state of Ohio, relative to independent baseball teams,” Cohen told the committee.

Minor League players have filed a class-action suit in California, Florida and Arizona alleging they weren’t being paid minimum wage.

But other lawmakers questioned the timing of the bill, first introduced last session, as Minneapolis was debating its own minimum wage.

“Clearly you’re asking the Saints to be exempt from both minimum wage and overtime,” said Sen. Bobby Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. His city not only enacted a minimum wage last year, but fought off pressure to include a so called “tip credit” exemption for employees that earn gratuities.

Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, was equally critical, noting the battle over state preemption of the Minneapolis ordinance last year. The Legislature passed and Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a measure that would have struck down local wage laws.

“Logically you’re bringing something that makes sense, but it isn’t our place to tell St. Paul how to manage their business," Isaacson said. "I have been pretty clear about local control from the beginning, and I will continue to be (for) local control here….Whether you want to say its a preemption bill or not, that’s kind of how it appears to me.” 

Sen. Michael Goggin, R-Red Wing, offered an amendment to add overtime exemptions for seasonal agricultural workers to the bill. “We need to do all we can to level the playing field and make sure the farmers and workers can earn a good living,” Goggin said.

The committee voted to add his amendment to Cohen’s bill, and that was all for him.

He asked the committee to table the bill, which means action is stalled indefinitely.