Legislative update

Monday, March 31, 2014

The topic of minimum wages has been discussed at the Legislature for the past two years. The House passed its version of a bill addressing the subject last year, but was unable to persuade the Senate to go along with its proposal to raise the rate to $9.50 per hour. The legislation got stuck in conference committee, and that’s where it still sits.

Various reports say the two sides have finally agreed on the $9.50 figure, but negotiations are still ongoing pertaining to other factors, such as how fast the wage scale would ramp up to that amount. However, the biggest obstacle yet to be resolved is House language calling for the minimum wage to be tied to an automatic inflation factor. That’s a classic example of government on auto-pilot and, in itself, would be a factor that boosts inflation. I have heard from many small business owners who say that an increase of that size would lead to lay-offs, especially among younger employees, and/or higher retail prices to cover the increased cost of doing business. I’ve also heard from several who support the increase.

Also underway are negotiations on the proposed new Senate office building and parking ramp, which carries a $90 million price tag. I don’t dispute the need for additional space, especially during the Capital restoration project, but didn’t care for the method in which the building was approved last year. Added to the tax bill in the final days of session, the proposal was never fully debated in the usual method of funding building projects. All that’s needed now for final approval is the okay from the House Rules Committee, which has had one hearing on the topic but has yet to vote on it.

This week marks a transition in scheduling, at least in the House. We have passed the second deadline so most committee work has been completed. The one that still has much work to do is the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which is the last stop for bills before going to the floor for debate and voting. Floor sessions are scheduled for all five days this week, up from the usual two days when all committees were still meeting. After this week’s full schedule, we will come back next week and be in session until Thursday afternoon, April 10, at which time we break for the customary Easter and Passover recess. We won’t resume legislative activity until Tuesday, April 22.

***

Heard an outstanding speaker last Friday evening, March 28, at the Pope County Corn and Soybean Growers annual meeting. His name is Bruce Vincent, whose family used to run a logging company in Libby, Montana. His hometown is surrounded by 2.5 million acres of national forest, but he says increased regulation from the EPA has made it difficult to stay in business. He called on those of us living in rural America to become more active in promoting our businesses and our way of life. He cited criticism of American agriculture by some environmentalists, but called US farmers “the best in the world” at what they do.

Rep. Paul Anderson, House District 12B

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