Changing Colorado’s Minimum Wage Law

This year may be a different story

Twice before, the General Assembly has considered legislation that purported to allow local governments (municipalities and counties) in Colorado the ability to set a minimum wage different than the state minimum wage.  Each time, the legislation failed in a split legislature. In 2019, a different outcome is likely.

american bills business cheque

The premise behind the prior legislation was to repeal a statute enacted in 1998 that specifically preempts local governments from setting their own minimum wage. The Colorado Municipal League was neutral on both the 1998 preemption bill and the 2015 and 2018 attempts to repeal it.  When the preemption was enacted, prior Colorado Supreme Court decisions on wage regulation already seemed to clearly preempt any local variances, and the subsequent enactment of a minimum wage in the constitution clearly established the floor. In 2019, the minimum wage is $11.10 and it will rise to $12.00 in 2020. The attempts to repeal the preemption would not have changed prior case law or the minimum wage established in the constitution.

However, this year things may be different.  HB 19-1210 was recently introduced that both repeals the existing preemption and grants specific authority to local governments to set a higher minimum wage than the state. The grant of authority is the element that has been missing, and CML expects that the legislation will be fine-tuned even more on the authority granted to local governments.

Given the high degree of local control in the legislation, which seems destined to be enacted this year, CML has thrown support behind the bill. Yet, wage regulation is a tricky business, even at a statewide level, and the League’s support should be understood as support for the authority to be held at the local level, even if it means nothing changes. That may not completely align with the goals of the HB 1210 proponents that argue $11.10 – and ultimately $12.00 on January 1, 2020 – is not a living wage and that it must be allowed to exceed the state’s minimum in areas of the state with the highest costs of living.

CML is agnostic as to whether or not the minimum wage should be increased but fully supports the authority granted to local governments to decide. If HB 19-1210 is signed into law, then it will be incumbent upon municipal leaders  to engage with employers and citizens in their communities, as well as with other municipalities and counties, on whether or not and to what extent there should be local variances. They will have to consider the ripple effects in the employment market of even one municipality or county increasing the minimum wage and work together. This kind of collaboration occurs every day in local government on a number of issues that most people are not even aware of. Thankfully, there are other areas of the country from which experience and data can be studied.

HB 19-1210 will get its first hearing on March 6 in the House Transportation and Local Government Committee. It is very likely that the legislation will move quickly through the House and possibly even the Senate. If enacted, the legislation would become effective on August 2, 2019.


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