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Ruling on minimum
wage issue is reversed

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark editor

The Supreme Court of Missouri has reversed the Jackson County Circuit Court's ruling that found establishing a minimum wage ordinance for Kansas City unconstitutional, which blocked the measure from appearing on a 2015 ballot.

Written in an eight-page opinion by Judge Paul C. Wilson, the Supreme Court reverses the trial court's judgment and orders the city to move forward with placing the proposed minimum wage ordinance before voters.

Reverend Samuel Mann and other individuals followed all the necessary steps to bring a proposed minimum wage ballot measure before voters. The proposed ballot measure asked voters to decide if the minimum wage of workers in Kansas City should be increased to $15 per hour by 2020.

In September 2015, the City of Kansas City filed a petition to remove the proposed minimum wage ordinance from the ballot on the grounds it would be invalid even if the measure was approved by voters, because it conflicts with state law. The law, considered by members of the city council as a loophole, prevents local governments from enacting laws that require employers to pay employees a rate that exceeds the state or federal minimum wage after Aug. 28, 2015.

City officials argued the ballot measure was futile, arguing the election would just end up costing the city $500,000.

Reverend Mann argued the statute prohibiting local governments from acting a local minimum wage was itself invalid and the proposed minimum wage ordinance should appear before voters at a special election.

But the circuit court prematurely declared the proposed ordinance unconstitutional and the ballot measure never saw daylight.

The lower court's ruling was challenged on the grounds that legal challenges before the election are restricted to claims pertaining to procedures and not the unconstitutionality of a proposed ballot measure.

“Because all of the Charter's initiative petition provisions were followed (or, at least, because the city raised no challenges with respect to the Committee's compliance with them), there is no basis on which a court may prohibit the city voters from considering the proposed minimum wage ordinance,” wrote Judge Paul Wilson.

In a statement emailed to The Landmark, Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, had this response to the new developments.

"I am aware of today's ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court. Currently, we are reviewing the ruling and will consult the city attorney in order to understand the decision further. Until we fully understand those details I am not able to determine, or advocate for, a precise timeline for complying with court's ruling,” James said.

“What does not change as a result of today's ruling is the underlying shared goal in all of this: Increasing the minimum wage for Kansas Citians. When we do this, we will fuel our economy, strengthen our workforce, and further commit ourselves to the promise of making Kansas City a world-class city in which to live, work, and raise a family," the mayor added.