iowa-restaurant-assoc-logoThe CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association says there’s one main issue the state’s hospitality industry hopes the 2017 legislature addresses.

Jessica Dunker says her association wants a uniform minimum wage throughout the state.

“We would really like to see the legislature step in and strengthen preemption laws,” Dunker says, “so there is one minimum wage and one tip wage across the entire state.”

County boards of supervisors in Johnson, Linn, Wapello and Polk Counties have voted to raise the minimum wage at the local level. The state’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, identical to the federal minimum wage. Dunker says the Iowa Restaurant Association isn’t opposed to raising the state’s minimum wage, but if that’s the legislature’s decision, her group would like to see the increase phased in over a period of years.

Dunker met yesterday with bar and restaurant owners in the Sioux City area. She said hospitality businesses in border areas like Sioux City face unfair competition in neighboring states because of Iowa’s liability insurance laws.

“There are some things in Iowa law that make it more difficult to both obtain insurance and also make it easier for people to go back to restaurants and bars, even if the restaurants and bars aren’t responsible for unfortunate incidents,” Dunker said.

Iowa is among 30 states with laws that allow someone who has been injured by an intoxicated person to sue a bar or restaurant where that person may have been served alcohol. South Dakota law exempts bars and restaurants from that kind of liability and Nebraska has a more limited law regarding such lawsuits. Governor Terry Branstad has said he’s interested in passing “tort reform” in 2017, but he hasn’t specifically mentioned the part of state law that covers lawsuits filed against bars and restaurants.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)