What You Get in a Legislative Christmas Tree

Ohio lawmakers wrapped up 2016 with passage of a bill (S.B. 331) that originally focused on puppies and kittens but ultimately barred cities from setting employer mandates for things such as minimum wages and paid leave.

The story begins in Grove City and Toledo, two cities that enacted ordinances affecting retail pet stores. The local laws were designed to stop stores from obtaining animals through high-volume breeders, sometimes referred to as "puppy mills."

Opposition from the retail pet industry gave rise to the "Petland" bill, named for the company that sought to overturn local limitations on animal purchases. During the legislative process, a number of employment-related provisions were added to the measure. By the time S.B. 331 was sent to Gov. John Kasich (R), who signed it on Dec. 19, some observers were calling it the "Christmas tree" bill.

You’re probably asking yourself how employment law got tied in with puppies. The connection basically boils down to curbing local laws and preventing Ohio cities and towns from imposing standards that exceed statewide requirements.

State legislators posited that regulating employment is a task that should be the bailiwick of the state government, not individual localities. They said forcing employers to meet varying local requirements "creates additional and unnecessary costs on employers, diminishes employers' flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions, adversely affects employees' job flexibility, impairs economic growth, and impedes employers' ability to operate competitively both in Ohio and elsewhere."

The end result is that no city or town in Ohio can institute a minimum wage that is different from the state’s rate, pegged at $8.15 an hour as of Jan. 1. That provision of S.B. 331 effectively halted an initiative in Cleveland aimed at raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In addition, S.B. 331 blocks local laws on fringe benefits, including ordinances that would require employers to provide sick time or other forms of paid leave.

The legislation also blocks cities and towns from imposing scheduling requirements on private employers. More specifically, it protects employers’ authority to set and regulate work hours; decide the amount of notification to provide about work schedules, changes in hours and shift cancellations; decide whether to give employees predictable work schedules; determine how many hours employees are on-call; and determine whether to provide additional work hours to current employees before hiring additional workers.

And yes, the new law also bars cities from imposing restrictions that would keep pet stores from obtaining puppies and kittens through high-volume breeders.

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