BISMARCK — North Dakota cities would be prevented from raising their minimum wages above the state mandate under a bill sent to Gov. Doug Burgum Monday, March 18, although officials in the state’s major municipalities said the idea isn’t on their radar.
The North Dakota Senate approved House Bill 1193 in a 35-11 vote Monday, a month after House lawmakers passed it.
The Republican-backed bill would ban local governments in North Dakota from enacting a “living wage mandate” that’s higher than the state’s minimum wage. North Dakota’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour matches the federal requirement, which hasn’t been raised in a decade.
Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, warned of layoffs and automation if cities began raising their minimum wages. He said groups that supported the bill, including the Greater North Dakota Chamber, worried about a "patchwork" of employer pay requirements.
But Wyndmere Democratic Sen. Jim Dotzenrod argued state lawmakers should stay out of local government decisions about the mandate.
"It seems to me the debate here belongs at the local level," he said. "If (local policymakers) have done something that's offensive to the citizens, they'll have to be accounted for at the next election."
Officials in the state’s four largest cities — Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot — said they haven’t considered raising the minimum wage, at least in recent years. But the Grand Forks City Council opposes the bill because it infringes on the city’s home rule authority, said city spokesman Pete Haga.
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand said the idea came up during last year’s local elections but “it didn’t get any traction.” He said the “preemptive” bill doesn’t seem to be fixing any existing problem.
“I think if there’s a city out there that wants to do something, let the city have a voice,” Strand said.
West Fargo Republican Sen. Judy Lee, who voted for the bill, argued the market is already dictating wages here. North Dakota's median hourly wages were $19.25 in May 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The 2017 Republican-controlled Legislature voted down a bill to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage by $2, with cost-of-living adjustments. An effort to gather signatures to put the issue on the ballot faltered last year.
Burgum, a Republican, generally doesn't comment on bills before they reach his desk. As of November, 25 states had a similar law in place, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Last year, St. Paul followed Minneapolis in approving a minimum wage hike that will be phased in until reaching $15 an hour, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.