Capitol Chatter: Minimum wage automatically heads up
ST. PAUL — Minnesota's minimum wage workers will receive a 15-cent-per-hour bump on Jan. 1.
The state Department of Labor and Industry decided that is the size of the state's first automatic minimum wage increase. That will bring the current $9.50 hourly wage to $9.65 for more than 250,000 workers.
The higher wage is a result of a 2014 law that gradually raised the minimum to $9.50 a year ago, then put it on automatic with the labor and industry agency responsible for determining the exact wage each year based on inflation. The automatic change continues each year unless the Legislature and governor change the law.
Minneapolis is going beyond state law, requiring minimum wages of $15 an hour in five years.
While most people fall under the $9.65 wage, those who work for smaller companies will have a $7.87 minimum next year, a 12-cent increase. That is the same lower limit that businesses must pay trainees and workers younger than 18.
"Our state and nation were founded on the belief that hard work and opportunity should go hand in hand," Lt. Gov Tina Smith said. "Raising the minimum wage will help make this value a reality for thousands of Minnesotans, many of them people of color and women with children."
State law requires labor and industry state officials to announce in August the following year's minimum wage so businesses can be prepared.
Trafficking change sought
Minnesota's attorney general wants federal law changed so websites do not profit from running advertisements that traffic children and women.
Lori Swanson joined other state attorneys general in asking Congress to rewrite a law that federal judges have said gives websites immunity from liability when running such ads.
"Some websites profit by running online ads that traffic children and women," Swanson said. "Congress should permit these websites to be held accountable for actively promoting and facilitating sex trafficking and crimes against children."
The most-mentioned website on this issue is Backpage.com. Swanson said such sites facilitate sex trafficking by running ads for prostitution.
Judges have ruled that federal law trumps state law, so the state Legislature cannot act on the issue.
"It is both ironic and tragic that (federal law), which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the internet, is now used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children," Sanson and her colleagues wrote in the letter requesting change.
About 40 percent of sex trafficking cases involve minors. A fake online advertisement for prostitution recently posted by southern Minnesota prosecutors generated nearly 500 responses.
The FBI says Minnesota has the 13th highest rate of sex trafficking in the country.
MN senators testify
A pair of Minnesota state senators told a federal commission to exempt imports from Canada from proposed tariffs.
Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, testified in front of the International Trade Commission, focusing on jobs on Minnesota's Iron Range.
Tomassoni told commissioners about a Mountain Iron solar-power equipment manufacturer that has created northern Minnesota jobs. The company, acquired by the Canadian company Heilene, has expanded and is looking to expand even more.
"This is a big deal for Iron Rangers," Tomassoni said. "We've been through a lot since the economy crashed nearly a decade ago, and we are seeing promise in solar energy and trade with Canada. If the federal government slapped tariffs on Canadian goods Minnesotans would ultimately suffer the consequences."
Smaller tours now
Minnesota Capitol visitors now can enjoy tours of the renovated building without fighting huge crowds.
During the Capitol's Aug. 11-13 grand opening after a $310 million, four-year renovation project, some tours included 200 people, far too many to hear a tour guide. But the Capitol is calmer these days and more manageable-size groups are being led around the building.
The Minnesota Historical Society offers tours on the hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday.
A trip to the roof to see the Quadriga, the golden horses, is included in tours when weather allows. During the open house, visitors waited in a line snaking around the third floor.
About 8,000 people made the trek to see the Quadriga, a fraction of people who toured the building.
State contracts OK'd
Members of two unions overwhelmingly ratified contracts with the state providing 2 percent raises this year and 2.5 percent next year.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 and Minnesota Association of Professional employees combined represent more than 30,000 state workers.
The contracts require administration and legislative approval.
They provide better health insurance and guarantee six weeks of paid parental leave.