Colorado Should Approve HB 18-1368 to Protect Local Democracy and Support Workers in High Cost-of-Living Areas

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for today’s hearing. My name is Laura Huizar, and I am a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). NELP is a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy organization specializing in employment policy. We are based in New York with offices across the country, and we partner with federal, state, and local lawmakers on a wide range of workforce issues. I am based in our Washington, D.C., office. 

Across the country, our staff are recognized as policy experts in areas such as unemployment insurance, wage and hour enforcement, and, as is relevant for today’s hearing, the minimum wage and minimum wage preemption. We have worked with dozens of city councils and state legislatures across the country and with the U.S. Congress on measures to boost pay for low-wage workers and are familiar with their economic experiences. NELP has also produced research on minimum wage preemption, supported litigation defending local home rule powers, and contributed to the education of the public and policymakers through its media work.   

NELP testifies today in support of HB 18-1368, which 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. 

Since 1999, Colorado law has prohibited local governments in the state from adopting local minimum wage laws. At the same time, 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, and that level 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.  

NELP hopes that this committee will support HB 18-1368 in order to support local governments’ ability to respond to the needs of their residents through local minimum wage rates that correspond to their unique economies and cost of living. Support for HB 18-1368 will also, more broadly, help ensure that Colorado residents can continue to rely on local democracy to voice their opinions and shape the policies that affect them most directly.  

Read the full testimony below. 

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About the Author

Laura Huizar

Immigrant Worker Justice Program Director, National Employment Law Project