The Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City Thursday heard cases over minimum wage increases in Kansas City and St. Louis.
In the Kansas City case, the high court’s considering whether a ballot proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage should’ve been removed from its November 2015 election.
The city passed a separate wage hike ordinance the same year. It called for the ballot proposal to be discarded if a bill passed by the legislature barring municipalities from raising minimum pay withstood a veto by Governor Nixon. The bill subsequently became law after lawmakers overrode the governor.
After the override, a circuit court granted the city authority to remove the proposed wage hike from the ballot, stating that two laws passed by the legislature – the one in 2015 and one approved in 1998 – render the proposed wage increase unconstitutional.
Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter argued that Kansas City had no choice but to remove the ballot proposal. “We cannot be required to put an ordinance before the voters that is expressly prohibited by state law” said Baxter. “That is the reason that we ask that it be taken off the ballot.”
Baxter stressed that the city of Kansas City strongly supports an increase in the minimum wage. She said the city council “strongly” agrees with what the backers of the ballot proposal are trying to accomplish, but recognizes what it can and can’t do under the law.
Attorney Taylor Fields, who represents the ballot proposals backers, questioned whether the state law is constitutional. He said “This is the only opportunity that we would have to actually challenge the constitutionality of that bill”.
In the case involving St. Louis, the Supreme Court’s considering a challenge of a lower court decision which voided a minimum wage hike.
The legislature’s 2015 law barred local minimum pay increases after August 28th of that year. On August 28th, 2015, St. Louis city approved a wage increase to take effect immediately.
A group of businesses led by Cooperative Home Care Inc., defeated the city’s wage hike in a circuit court under the claim it violated the state constitution.
That ruling prompted an appeal to the high court by St. Louis. Attorney Jane Dueker, who represents the business owners, argued before the high court that the state can only have one minimum wage. “It’s a state minimum wage” said Dueker. “There’s can only be one minimum. Otherwise, if there’s another minimum, one minimum goes away. So it’s no longer minimum if it has to be higher.”
Arguing for the city, attorney John Rehmann II claimed St. Louis was in compliance with the deadline set by lawmakers. “The general assembly stated that local minimum wage laws shall not be preempted if they’re in affect by August 28th, 2015” said Rehmann II. “They recognized the power of local cities and municipalities to pass local minimum wage ordinances at least until August 28th, 2015.”
Rehmann II also argued that the St. Louis ordinance complies with the 2015 state law. He said “the minimum wage law is a statute of prohibition intended to protect employees against employers. It sets a minimum floor that employers are prohibited from paying below.”
The Kansas City and St. Louis minimum wage cases were among five cases heard by the Missouri Supreme Court Thursday. The other three involved juvenile sentences.