- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A proposal that blocks cities and towns from regulating paid time off, retirement plans or other employee benefits received preliminary approval in the Senate on Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers are also proposing their own ballot measure that would give the Legislature sole authority to set the minimum wage in the state.

The proposals come as San Francisco is poised to become the first city in the country to mandate full parental leave for most workers. Meanwhile, Arizona coalitions are seeking signatures for initiatives to increase the minimum wage and set standards for paid sick leave.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is sponsoring the proposal that would prohibit cities and towns from regulating non-wage compensation including welfare benefits, bonuses, retirement plans as well as sick, vacation and severance pay. The bill clarifies a 2013 law that declares the state as the only body that can regulate employee benefits, he said.

Mesnard called the benefits a gray area that needs to be fixed to prevent government overreach on the part of cities and towns. “Some cities and states are moving in that direction. I hope we don’t. I think jobs will be lost as a result,” he said.

During debate, Sen. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, said the proposal highlights Republican hypocrisy that calls for limited government while passing legislation to regulate cities and towns.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, shot back that state Republicans are preventing unnecessary regulations. “This is about limited government and is entirely consistent with our philosophy. Don’t tread on me,” Kavanagh said.

Democrats argued that setting minimum wage and benefit standards puts more money and time in the hands of low-wage workers who turn around and spend their earnings in the state economy. “These benefits are good for the workers, they are good for the public, but they are also good for the employers,” said Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

House Bill 2579 received preliminary approval Tuesday and now awaits a formal vote. The proposal needs a three-fourths majority in each chamber to pass because it makes changes to a voter-approved initiative that raised the state’s minimum wage in 2006.

A group advocating for worker’s rights is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and require employers to provide earned paid sick time. A second group is collecting signatures to put a citizen initiative on the ballot in Flagstaff to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2020.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey stated his opposition to initiatives like the one in Flagstaff during his State of the State address, saying that a patchwork of wage regulations would “drive our economy off a cliff.”

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