- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s Democratic lawmakers plan to focus on ways to help Iowa businesses and workers in 2015, though the state’s top Senate Democrat said Monday that increasing Iowa’s minimum wage will be a challenge in the divided Legislature.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, said that two priorities for Democrats will be strengthening the preference given to Iowa companies in the awarding of state contracts and ensuring that employers are not stealing wages from Iowa workers.

“Those are two areas that I think make sense, that would strengthen the middle class and grow Iowa’s economy,” Gronstal said.

Similar bills have failed in previous years, but Gronstal expressed optimism that lawmakers can find common ground in the Legislature, where Democrats control the Senate and Republicans hold a majority in the House.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, said Republicans are open to proposals on these topics, though he noted there are already some contracting rules in place. He said GOP lawmakers will continue to prioritize a balanced budget, as well as looking at cutting income taxes this year.

Gronstal said Democrats continue to support raising the state minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour. But he said it will be difficult to make that change with the divided legislative control.

“Many of us think it’s time to do that, but we recognize the political reality,” Gronstal said.

As of January 1, minimum wage increases had gone into effect in 20 states and the District of Columbia - due to automatic increases in some states and the result of legislation or ballot initiatives in others. A total of 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federally mandated $7.25 an hour, including Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Democrats also plan to again seek to expand publicly funded 4-year-old preschool and provide more job training opportunities.

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