Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says local governments should decide on living wages

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says local governments should decide on living wages

December 13th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that cities and counties should be able to determine whether to establish wage requirements for companies contracting with them.

"I'm not a fan of the living wage," Haslam told reporters. But he said local "governments should be able to decide for themselves if they want to do that."

Two Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would bar cities and counties from imposing wage requirements and overturn those that are already in place.

Memphis has such requirements, and Nashville is considering passing its "living wage" requirement.

In announcing the legislation last month, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said local governments are "unwittingly pricing certain employees out of jobs, especially minority teens, who do not yet have the skill set to demand high-wage, high-benefit jobs."

The Associated Press reported that Memphis requires contractors pay workers with no benefits at least $12.32 per hour, while those with benefits can earn no less than $10.27 per hour.

"If Memphis wants to decide that, it's city contractors dealing with them," Haslam said. "So if they want to put that in place for themselves, they should be able to do that."

The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Between 1997 and 2007, there were no increases, according to the Labor Law Center.

Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, a House sponsor of the ban, said the legislation bars cities and counties from imposing "living wage" requirements, family leave and insurance requirements on contractors doing business with them.

They were all part of a bill that also banned cities and counties from enacting ordinances prohibiting government contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians.

"I cut it up last year to make it a little bit more palatable," Casada said, noting the General Assembly passed the bill banning local governments from setting anti-gay bias requirements for contractors.

Haslam signed the bill.

Casada said his bill "mimics" the U.S. Constitution's interstate commerce clause, which he noted bars laws that "inhibit" interstate commerce.

"I feel like that same analogy applies across counties and cities' lines," Casada said. "So we're telling our local governments, 'Guys, there are certain things we don't want you to regulate. We regulate them if they're regulated at all.'"

Casada said Democrats have opposed such legislation, saying the state needs to stay out of local governments' business. But he said the Legislature typically passes three or four bills a year that impose various requirements on them.

He said while they argue the state "shouldn't dictate to the cities," local governments are a creation of the state.

"I think we should focus on this legislation. Not a straw dog."

Earlier, Haslam rejected any similarities between his stance on local governments and "living wages" and the bill he signed earlier this year that voided Nashville's anti-gay bias ordinance.

"Little different implications," Haslam said.

Asked whether he would sign the Casada/Kelsey legislation, Haslam said he would not get into hypotheticals.

"I'm not in the practice of commenting on things that may or may not happen," the governor said.

Casada's law banning anti-gay bias requirements on contractors was crafted with help from former Sen. David Fowler, R-Signal Mountain, who is now president of the conservative Christian values group the Family Action Council of Tennessee.

Gay organizations have sued to overturn the state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.