Ohio lawmakers passed a measure this week that blocks local governments from raising the minimum wage and passing laws to benefit workers.
The anti-worker measures were quietly inserted into a bill regulating where pet stores can buy dogs and cats on Wednesday. The maneuver surprised even state Rep. Denise Driehaus, the ranking Democrat on the state House finance committee, where the language was added.
“I didn’t hear anything about it until I saw it,” Driehaus said. “The conversation was, ‘What is this? Do the locals have any idea that this has been introduced into this piece of legislation?’ The answer to that was no.”
Driehaus added that the way the anti-worker language was stuffed into the pet store bill was “an aberration” of the legislative process.
The state Senate concurred with amendments added to the bill, so it now goes to the desk of Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who hasn’t decided whether he’ll sign it.
“A hallmark of lame duck is a flood of bills, including, bills inside of bills, and we will closely examine everything we receive,” Emmalee Kalambach, a Kasich spokeswoman, said in an email.
Some Cleveland officials had asked the state to pass legislation blocking the city from raising its minimum wage, saying it could hinder the city’s economic recovery efforts. Ohio’s minimum wage is $8.10 an hour.
States across the country have pushed similar measures restricting municipalities from raising the minimum wage. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, pro-business lobbying group, has drafted a template for legislation.
Businesses argue that a patchwork of different minimum wages hurts employers. Research has shown that’s not necessarily the case. In a state like Ohio, with many regional economies, a minimum wage that works in cities like Cleveland or Columbus may not work in a rural area, said Keary McCarthy, president and CEO of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank.
McCarthy said he wasn’t surprised to see the restrictions on the minimum wage, since Cleveland leaders had asked the legislature to pass it. But he said he was surprised that the measure was broadened to block municipalities from enacting laws that would require employers to provide certain worker benefits, such as paid sick leave.
McCarthy noted that the legislature’s attempts to erode local autonomy go against the philosophy of Republicans, who traditionally champion local control and weak central government.
“It used to be a conservative principle that the government that’s closest to you is the government that can govern best. But that’s not the case here in Ohio,” McCarthy said. “There’s been a significant erosion of local control here over the years. Frankly, if the federal government did to the state what states do to the cities, the very same folks that just passed this law would be outraged.”