Protecting Local Democracy

The Minnesota Legislature is debating a “preemption” bill that would prevent cities from expanding worker benefits or increasing the minimum wage. Dozens of us, including Bishop Steven Delzer of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, spoke against the bill at a hearing tonight in the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee.

Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak. My name is Javen Swanson. I’m one of the pastors at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. I’m also a clergy leader with ISAIAH.

You’ll have to excuse my raspy voice. I’m recovering from a cold. I actually took a sick day earlier this week so I could rest up and keep my coworkers healthy. I’m lucky to have access to paid sick time, but in St. Paul there are currently 72,000 workers who don’t. Fortunately, this past year the city of St. Paul passed an earned sick and safe time ordinance that is slated to go into effect this summer.

The process was a triumph of local democracy. Many St. Paul congregations, including the one I serve, invited their city council members to public meetings where they heard real people’s stories. Hundreds of St. Paul residents attended and testified at multiple city council hearings. The city council had lengthy discussions and ultimately, by a unanimous vote, established an ordinance that serves the needs of our local community. On the night of the vote one councilmember remarked that she had never seen so many citizens engaged in the political process.

This bill is an attempt on the part of big corporate interests to shut down local democracy. We see what’s going on here. Businesses don’t want to expand worker benefits or increase wages, and with vast resources and an army of lobbyists in Washington and here in St. Paul, they usually get their way. So when local communities do what’s right for our most vulnerable neighbors, it’s not surprising that powerful business lobbies try to shut down local democracy, too. It’s not surprising, but it is reprehensible.

Proponents of this bill say that preemption is about creating a consistent standard across Minnesota, avoiding a patchwork of regulations. We’ve been hearing that all night. I’m happy to call their bluff. If “one state, one rule” is really what they seek, great. Let’s use Saint Paul’s sick time ordinance as a model for statewide legislation that protects the most vulnerable members of our communities, those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” I respectfully call upon the legislature to exercise moral leadership. Stop this attack on local democracy—or if you’re serious about “one state, one rule,” pass Earned Sick and Safe Time for all Minnesotans.

Featured image for this post courtesy of Betty Tisel. Used with permission.

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