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Our View: Tread carefully on 'preemption'

You have to hand it to our locally elected DFLers for so successfully recasting proposed legislation this session as some sort of St. Paul power grab at the expense of local governments and local control.

The main piece of legislation to which they objected has to do with workplace rules, including requiring employers to provide paid days off to workers when they're sick, when a loved one is sick, or when they have an emergency. Minneapolis and St. Paul already have enacted so-called sick and safe rules. Duluth city councilors have been working toward taking action, too.

They can hold off. Rather than an attempt to take away local say, legislation in St. Paul to make sure Minnesota employers treat their workers well — as most already do — is most appropriately taken up there and applied statewide.

Otherwise, imagine if you do business across city lines, like most businesses do, and all of a sudden Minnesota's 850 cities each started enacting their own workplace laws and mandates. Imagine the mess. Imagine the confusion.

"A patchwork of laws just does not work for employers, large or small," as Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said in an interview with News Tribune editorial board members in February. "This really should be a state issue. Or a federal issue, for that matter."

Little evidence has been presented to suggest there's even a problem in Minnesota, that employers here aren't treating their workers well, including by offering them the ability to earn paid sick days.

Nevertheless — and troublingly — late last week, Gov. Mark Dayton said he'd veto workplace rules and other measures he and his DFL opponents have recast as "preemption;" the suggestion is they supposedly preempt local control.

So eager were some Duluth city councilors to send a message to St. Paul in opposition to preemption that they quickly scheduled a special meeting on the matter for today. This was after the issue wisely was tabled last week. Today's meeting has since been canceled in light of Dayton's veto announcement.

Councilors can let the matter be when they meet again a week from today. That's because a City Council protest vote now could jeopardize tens of millions of dollars in state bonding the city is seeking for a steam plant conversion, St. Louis River cleanup, runway repairs, and other urgent projects.

Last week both Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery and Mayor Emily Larson warned councilors to back off, a warning initially ignored.

"We feel this sort of action ... two weeks before the end of the legislative session is a distraction at best and could be an inhibitor at worst (to Duluth's success in a bonding) bill," Montgomery said at the council meeting.

"I feel that this conversation could have been better suited at an earlier time," Mayor Larson said in a note to councilors.

Credit Duluth's city councilors for being passionate about maintaining local control, even if their focus here seems misguided. Many decisions that affect local residents are best made at the local level. Whether they believe the matter now is local "preemption," councilors still can heed the warnings of Montgomery and the mayor, consider that there are other priorities at play, and resist any lingering urge to pass a big, showy, message-sending resolution.

In the same way, the governor can rethink his veto pledge, recognizing that workplace rules, really, are most appropriately taken up at the state level.

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