Colorado House Approves Repeal of Preemption Law Blocking Local Minimum Wage Increases

In response to the Colorado House of Representatives’ passage of a bill to repeal a 1999 state law that blocks cities and counties from adopting a local minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, issued the following statement:

“The Colorado House vote to repeal the state’s minimum wage preemption law is a major victory for Colorado workers and local communities. The bill passed by the Colorado House today would give cities and counties the basic right to enact a minimum wage rate that makes sense for their communities. Thousands of Colorado workers and their communities stand to benefit from the ability to raise the minimum wage locally, and other states stand to benefit from Colorado’s example in seeking to protect local minimum wages and local democracy, more broadly.

“Although more than 20 states have raised their minimum wage in recent years, including Colorado through a 2016 voter initiative, workers in high-cost cities and counties often need a higher minimum wage than the state minimum just to afford the basics. This is why more than 40 cities and counties have passed higher local minimum wages in recent years, including Minneapolis, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Chicago.

“If this bill passes the state senate and is signed into law, Colorado would become the first state in the nation where the legislature itself has repealed a minimum wage preemption law. In 2006, Arizona repealed a minimum wage preemption law through a voter initiative. Currently, 25 states have laws preempting local minimum wage policies.”


Since 1999, Colorado law has prohibited cities and counties in the state from adopting local minimum wage laws. Subsequently, the state legislature kept the state’s minimum wage frozen at the federal minimum wage rate until voters approved Initiative 42 in 2006, which increased the state’s minimum wage to $6.85 per hour and required the state’s minimum wage to be adjusted annually for inflation.  As of 2016, the state’s minimum wage had reached only $8.31 per hour, however—a level that failed to reflect the cost of living in the state, making it difficult, if not entirely impossible, for workers and families to afford the basics despite working long hours.  Because the state legislature, again, did not raise the state’s minimum wage, voters proposed and approved Amendment 70 in 2016, which will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour.

Despite the progress that Colorado workers and their families achieved through Amendment 70, workers in a number of areas across the state continue to face high costs of living and a minimum wage that does not allow them to meet their basic needs through work.  For example, single workers with no children working full time in the Boulder metro area already needed $21.88 per hour just to make ends meet in 2017. A single worker with one child working full time in the Boulder metro area needed more than $35 per hour to make ends meet as of 2017.  In the Denver/Aurora/Lakewood metro area, a single worker with no children working full time needed $19.81 in 2017 to afford the basics.  A single worker with one child working full time in that same area in 2017 needed more than $34 per hour to make ends meet.  Local minimum wages provide a safety valve allowing localities to raise the minimum wage to more adequate levels when gridlock prevents the state legislature or Congress from raising it.

Extensive research shows that cities and counties can increase their minimum wage above the state minimum wage level without harming local or surrounding economies or competitiveness. Research has also documented significant benefits of higher wages for low-wage workers and their families, including positive health and educational outcomes.

While opponents of local minimum wages often cite the potential dangers of a “patchwork” of regulations, cities and counties have historically adopted a wide range of differing local laws tailored to specific local problems and needs. Such laws have addressed issues such as zoning, traffic, construction, licensing, environmental protections, and much more, and businesses have adapted. Legislators who support an economy that works for all should oppose preemption of local minimum wage laws.  Moreover, a recent national survey shows that most voters believe their local government should be able to adopt policies that reflect local values and view preemption as a threat to local democracy.

HB 18-1368 would expressly grant local governments in Colorado the authority to adopt and enforce local minimum wage laws that could help localities better address the high cost of living in parts of the state and the pressing needs of workers in their jurisdictions. If the Colorado legislature enacts HB 18-1368, Colorado would become just the second state, after Arizona, to win back this basic right—and the first state to do so via repeal by the legislature.

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