N.C.'s 'bathroom law' also prevents cities from boosting minimum wages

North Carolina's controversial law revoking local anti-discrimination ordinances included another measure aimed at reigning in local communities abilities to enact their own laws: prohibition of local minimum wage legislation.

Gerry Broome/AP
Rep. Julia Craven Howard (R), foreground, and other North Carolina lawmakers gather for a special session Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C. The lawmakers returned to work to pass an anti-discrimination bill that includes a measure that prohibits cities and counties from requiring businesses to pay more than the state's minimum wage.

​North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory wanted the state’s GOP-led legislature to give him a bill that solely overruled a local ordinance in Charlotte that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing.

But the bill he signed on Wednesday included much more – most notably, a sweeping revocation of local anti-discrimination ordinances. But the bill also included another measure aimed at reigning in local communities abilities to enact their own laws: a prohibition of local minimum wage legislation.

The measure comes amid a national push for dramatic boosts to the minimum wage. Unable to gain traction at the federal level, where the minimum wage has remained flat at $7.25 for six years, proponents of higher minimum wages have advocated for states and local communities to adopt a higher minimum wage. A measure to hike the statewide minimum wage in California will likely be put to the voters in November. Oregon adopted legislation earlier this year that will slowly push minimum wages up as high as $14.75 by 2022.

Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles have all broken away from statewide minimums to adopt city-specific mandates. The provision passed in North Carolina aims to prevent Tar Heel State communities from following suit.

“Local governments are creatures of the state, so local governments can only do what the state allows them to do,” Carmine Scavo, a political science professor at East Carolina University, told WNCT News.

While no cities or countries in North Carolina have yet established a minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, WNCT News reports that some were considering it. Kandie Smith, a member of the Greenville city council, said this was not the first time state lawmakers have taken rights away from local governments.

“For this to come up prematurely without us even knowing is very shocking and disappointing,” she told WNCT News.

Alabama enacted a similar law that prevents cities and municipalities from setting their own minimum wages, reports the Montgomery Advertiser. Such laws follow a nationwide push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The Atlantic reports that the controversial measure in North Carolina’s anti-discrimination law partially came about as a result of the state’s deep divide between liberal cities and conservative rural areas:

With few prospects to take back control in Raleigh, progressives have looked to local government as a way to enact change. The general assembly has not looked kindly on those efforts. In September, just as the legislative calendar was ending, lawmakers heard a bill that would prevent cities from passing higher minimum-wage laws, establishing affordable-housing mandates, or instituting rules about landlord-tenant relations …

Although the push to preempt city laws failed as the clock ran out, Charlotte’s new ordinance created a new impetus.

The new law also prevents cities and counties in North Carolina from passing their own anti-discrimination rules, and instead imposes a statewide standard that leaves out sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, it mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate.

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