Gauging the 2018 Legislative Lineups on Wage Bills


Football season is over and it is far too early to bet on the Kentucky Derby, but wagering which states and governors may see success passing wage-related measures this legislative session may offer some sport, with outcomes of greater consequence.

Here’s a rundown of how things are lining up.

• State legislatures most likely to pass measures limiting wages:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are among the states that have a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature.  So, the outlook is good for wage-control measures in these states.

Among the bills that were introduced and stand a good chance of passage in some of these state legislatures are measures that curb wages and preempt local control of wage changes.

For example, an Arizona senate committee Feb. 12 approved a proposal (S.C.R. 1016) that would ask voters to roll back the annual minimum-wage increases to $12 by 2020, followed by inflation-related adjustments, and implementation of a requirement that employers provide workers with at least three sick days a year, which appeared on the Nov. 2016 ballot as Proposition 206 and was approved by 59 percent of voters.  

The proposal halts the minimum wage at the current $10.50 hourly minimum wage rate and repeals mandatory sick time. The measure must go before both houses of the state legislature. If it passes the legislature, it may appear on the November ballot.  

In 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court refused Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s attempts to overturn the law.

In Idaho, a measure (H.B. 466) passed the House on Feb. 13 and now moves to the Senate that exempts minors working for immediate family members from minimum-wage laws. Existing law offers minimum-wage exemptions for minors who work on family farms and for 16-year olds who work part time less than four hours a day. This bill would add minors working for family businesses to the exemption.

In Wisconsin, a bill (S.B. 634) is moving through the Senate that would preempt local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances related to employee hours and overtime, scheduling, and wage claims. 

Measures introduced in early January by Democrats in the Florida (S.B. 166) and Indiana (S.B. 121) legislature that would have resulted in increases to the state minimum wage have not moved. A Utah house bill (H.B. 118), also introduced by a Democrat, which would raise the tipped-worker minimum wage to $3.25 an hour from $2.13, remains in committee, where it was sent on Jan. 22.

State legislatures most likely to pass measures raising wages:

California, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington are among the states with a Democratic governor and a democratic-controlled legislature. These states include those that could see wage increases.

Among these states, Delaware’s legislature is considering an measure amended on Jan. 24 (S.A. 3 to S.B. 10) to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage in two steps to $8.75 from $8.25 on Oct. 1, 2018, and then to $9.25 on Oct. 1, 2019.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has expressed his intent to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 and implementing a paid sick leave program. The state’s former governor, Chris Christie (R), backed   measures to raise the minimum wage and to expand paid leave during his tenure. Several measures were introduced in the House and Senate, including a measure (S.B. 864) to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 with further increases over a four-year period, with annual cost-of-living increases.

In Rhode Island, a minimum wage bill (S.B. 2244) was introduced Jan. 30 that would increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2023 from the current $10.10, after which it would be adjusted for inflation. The measure also would gradually increase the tipped-worker minimum wage, which is $3.89, until it equals the non-tipped minimum wage by 2028. From 2024 onward, the minimum wage would be annually adjusted for inflation.

State legislatures most likely to offer a good dust-up over wage measures:

Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico,  New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia are among the states where one party controls the governor’s office and another party controls the legislature.

Different parties controlling the state executive branch and legislature does not automatically translate to conflict, but in recent years, there have been some doozies in which vetoes were imposed and overrides wielded. Were any such drama to happen regarding wage measures, these are the states where it is most likely to occur.

Exhibit A for such conflicts would be Maryland, where on Feb. 11, a mandatory paid sick-leave measure (H.B. 1/2017RS) took effect, likely bringing to resolution a battle that started in the 2017 legislative session after the Democratic-controlled legislature passed the measure and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed it. The legislature had enough votes that in January 2018 it overrode the governor’s veto, and the bill became law. The governor introduced an alternative sick leave measure in January, which has not significantly moved, and an emergency measure that would have delayed the paid sick leave measure’s effective date until July 1 failed to pass by Feb. 11.

Now, the Maryland legislature is considering measures to raise the minimum wage.  One bill (S.B. 543), which is scheduled for a Senate hearing on Feb. 20, would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage in annual adjustments until it reaches $15 on July 1, 2023, and thereafter is annually adjusted for inflation. Gov. Hogan said in January that he is willing to talk about a minimum wage increase, but not if it would hurt businesses or job growth.

Less dramatically, but no less significantly, Massachusetts’ heavily Democratic legislature is taking up a proposal (H.B. 2365, S.B. 1004) to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 from $11 in annual increments from 2019 to 2021, and raise the tipped-worker’s wage over eight years to equal the regular minimum wage and a proposal to require that workers have access to 16 weeks of paid leave for medical reasons or to care for a new baby or family member paid sick leave. The measures were circulated in 2017 and received more than enough signatures to appear on the November 2018 ballot. The state legislature may vote on the measures, but if it doesn’t or if the outcome is not satisfactory, the option exists to pursue placing the measures on the November ballot.  On Feb. 6, the date for reporting on the measures was extended to May 9. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) largely has been noncommittal, claiming in 2017 that he would carefully review a minimum wage measure, should it reach his desk, but also that he’d like to know more about the impact of a recent state minimum wage increase before weighing in on another one.

Meanwhile, after having unsuccessfully lobbying the Republican-led legislature for three years to increase the state’s minimum wage, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Jan. 17 announced an end-run on an overtime initiative. The governor expressed his intent to extend overtime eligibility to 460,000 additional employees by 2022 by increasing the threshold for overtime exemptions from $23,600 to $31,720 in 2020, $39,832 in 2021, and $47,892 in 2022, and thereafter to automatically update the salary threshold very three years. The governor’s plan also would clarify the duties tests for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions.

At the governor’s direction, the state’s Department of Labor and Industry “is finalizing a plan to modernize rules and clarify requirements and anticipates releasing the proposal to update the regulations for public comment in March.

In Vermont, a measure (S.B. 40) was introduced in the Democratic-controlled legislature and on Feb. 14 was favorably reported by the appropriations committee that would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2024. Gov. Phil Scott (R) does not support the measure.

Also worthy of watching, are the state legislatures in which different parties control the different sides of the legislature by slim margins. One such state is Maine.

In December 2017, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) proposed a bill (LD 1757) to the legislature that would roll back the hourly minimum wage increase that took effect Jan. 1, 2018. The minimum wage would change to $9.50 from $10, under the measure, which also would reduce future minimum wage increases, cap the minimum wage at $11 in 2021, eliminate cost-of-living adjustments, and would create a subminimum wage for workers younger than 18 and new hires younger than 20. In November 2016, voters approved a ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 from $7.50 with additional annual $1-an-hour increases until it reaches $12 in 2020.

In Maine’s legislature, Democrats control the House by a four-seat advantage and Republicans control the Senate by a one-seat advantage, which anticipates challenges to come.

Already, the legislature’s Labor, Research, Commerce, and Economic Development Committee, which is comprised of seven Democrats and six Republicans, on Feb. 8 reviewed the proposal and divided on party lines, voting 7-6 against it.  The bill now goes to the House and Senate as a divided report, which means that Republican lawmakers can still try to move the proposal forward.

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