An effort backed by labor leaders and nonprofits that would let cities in Louisiana set their own minimum wage was shot down Thursday after a lengthy debate over whether the state is overreaching by preempting locals on wage and paid leave issues.

The measure was being pushed by a coalition of groups called Unleash Local, and won the support of city councils in New Orleans, Shreveport and Alexandria. The Baton Rouge Metro Council voted not to support the idea.

House Bill 422, by state Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, would repeal a 1997 law that prevents cities and localities from setting their own minimum wage and paid leave laws, and represents one of several unsuccessful efforts seen in the Legislature in recent years to boost wages for low-income workers. Duplessis said he brought the bill because the state has restricted cities from making their own decisions on minimum wage and paid leave.

Should locals set their own minimum wage? A fresh idea gets rude awakening in Louisiana Legislature

A long line of workers, labor leaders and nonprofit organizations testified in favor of the bill. 

But two influential business groups, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business, spoke out against the proposal, saying it would create a “patchwork” of policies that would hurt businesses.

The House Labor Committee sided with the business groups and killed the measure. The committee voted 9-6 on party lines to involuntarily defer the bill. Democrats supported the bill, while Republicans opposed it. 

“Instead of becoming Nazi Germany or socialist Venezuela, we allow (companies) the freedom ... to pay what they choose,” said state Rep. Dodie Horton, a Republican from Haughton.

Recent polling from the LSU Public Policy Research Lab showed 81% of Louisiana residents support a minimum wage of $8.50. The state does not have a minimum wage and defaults to the $7.25 federal rate.

Louisiana Survey shows high support for teacher pay raises and a minimum wage increase

Representatives from the business groups warned of job losses if locals were allowed to raise their minimum wages.

“You’re talking about intruding into the private sector with repealing this (law),” said Jim Patterson, of LABI. “I think it would be detrimental to the state’s economy as a whole.”

Dawn Starnes, head of the Louisiana chapter of the NFIB, said the law would open the door to a “patchwork” of different minimum wage policies throughout the state that would make it hard for business owners to operate.

Duplessis argued locals already set their own policies on zoning, permitting, taxes and economic development incentives, all of which impact businesses.

“I’m baffled as to why this one particular issue, we’re painting it as though the sky will fall if companies have to make adjustments if they even function in different parishes,” Duplessis said.

Unleash Local in a statement after the vote called the vote "disappointing" and said committee members have a "fear of local democracy." The coalition includes Step Up Louisiana, the Louisiana Budget Project, American Heart Association, Louisiana AFL-CIO and several other groups. 

"This anti-democratic impulse reinforces the need to fight for local control over worker policies along with Louisiana’s working families, community organizations, and elected officials," the organization said. "Louisianans are tired of an unresponsive government that favors the interests of corporate lobbyists over its hardworking local residents." 

Duplessis brought the measure after seeing several efforts to establish a higher statewide minimum wage fail in the GOP-dominated Legislature in recent years. He said Thursday the bill would not raise minimum wages, but simply let locals make that decision for themselves, an idea he has called a conservative one by putting control in the hands of locals.

But the bill received a rude awakening just hours into the legislative session, when House Republicans diverted the bill to the House Labor Committee, which has shot down minimum wage proposals in the past. It was originally destined to go to the Local and Municipal Affairs Committee.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is backing a constitutional amendment this year that would let citizens vote on whether to install a $9 statewide minimum wage. The governor has tried unsuccessfully to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 in recent years.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.