Business groups are aligned behind an effort to challenge the power of local governments to set their own rules on a variety of things, from discrimination law to the minimum wage. And they expect a warm reception in the Missouri General Assembly.
The effort is being greeted with howls from city leaders. It’s hypocritical, they say, for a legislature that complains about the federal government foisting one-size-fits-all policies on the state to do the same thing to local governments.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James “deeply believes that states should not be in the business of telling cities how to run themselves,” said his chief of staff, Joni Wickham.
The chamber is focused on a three-pronged agenda. It wants to ban local governments from implementing discrimination laws that are stricter than the state’s. It wants to prohibit cities from boosting their minimum wage. And it wants to ban cities from mandating benefits such as vacation or sick leave.
The legislation may also take aim at other local ordinances, such as one recently passed in Columbia prohibiting private employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history or conducting background checks before making a conditional job offer.
Last week, President Barack Obama announced he’ll grant at least six weeks of paid leave to federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child. And in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he called on Congress to require companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave a year.
He’s also encouraging state and local governments to pass their own paid leave requirements if Congress fails to act.
The idea is sure to be greeted with hostility in Jefferson City, where Senate leaders listed “pushing back against the federal government” among their top legislative priorities for the year.
With minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances gaining momentum nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other groups have ramped up efforts to resist workplace regulations.
The Missouri chamber has historically opposed efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights Act alongside things such as race, gender and age. They’ve argued doing so would open businesses up to litigation.
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Promo, says the Chamber’s efforts position it against a rising tide of public support for gay rights.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states, and court rulings have allowed same-sex couples to marry in St. Louis and Jackson County. Yet under Missouri law a person can be fired from a job, evicted from an apartment or kicked out of a public place just for being gay.
The chamber’s proposed legislation also puts it at odds with some of its biggest members, Bockelman said. St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., for example, has offered same-sex domestic partner benefits for more than 10 years and brags that it was named one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” by the national gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign. The same types of benefits are offered by Kansas City-area companies like Cerner Corp., Burns & McDonnell and Sprint Corp.
(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 1/20/15)