SALEM, Ore. -- A little-known section of the Oregon Constitution became a thorn in the side of legislators working to raise the minimum wage Tuesday.
During public testimony before the Senate Committee on Workforce and General Government, Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told legislators that his county would not comply with the minimum wage bill, SB 1532, if it were to become law, because the county wouldn't have to.
Nyquist said Article XI, Section 15, of the Oregon Constitution requires the Legislature to reimburse local governments when they spend money to comply with new laws. In the case of the minimum wage, the state would increase local government payroll costs yet has no plan for reimbursement.
"So if you pass this minimum wage program and you don't fund it for local government it's our interpretation that Linn County doesn't have to participate," Nyquist told the committee.
Ted Reutlinger, chief deputy of the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Counsel, told the committee that Nyquist's interpretation is basically correct.
"If you were to pass this bill as it is without providing funding, or without a three-fifths vote, it would be up to the local governments to decide whether to comply with it," Reutlinger said. "This is the first time that I've ever heard of this particular issue coming up."
Article XI, Section 15, makes an exception if a bill is passed with a three-fifths supermajority in both legislative houses. Democrats hold three-fifths of the Senate, but not the House.
That leaves legislators with few options. They can try to pass the bill as it stands and see if local governments ignore the law, which would likely result in a court battle. They can amend the bill to reimburse local governments for expenses related to higher wages. Or, they can do nothing and see if one of several ballot measures that aim to raise the minimum wage wins; Article XI, Section 15, doesn't apply to ballot measures.
Last month, Gov. Kate Brown unveiled her minimum wage plan and said it's central to her 2016 policy agenda. The original proposal would have created a $13.50 statewide minimum wage by 2022 with a $15.52 wage for Portland. An amendment would reduce the top statewide wage to $13.25 and the Portland wage to $14.50.
Brown's top jobs advisers, Elana Pirtle-Guiney and Vince Porter, told the committee the amendment will suffice. However, they were unsure what would happen if SB 1532 passes and a ballot measure does, too.
"We were under the assumption that were this to pass, this would be the minimum wage policy for the state moving forward and there would not be other issues to consider," Porter said of SB 1532.
That was before Nyquist had his chance to testify. The bill is scheduled for a work session before the committee at 1 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Capitol in Hearing Room C.
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