Government & Politics

Kansas City faces another state challenge to raising city’s minimum wage

Kansas City low-wage workers have rallied on multiple occasions over the last two years to seek minimum wage increases.
Kansas City low-wage workers have rallied on multiple occasions over the last two years to seek minimum wage increases.

Missouri Rep. Dan Shaul, a Republican from Jefferson County, has introduced legislation aimed at preventing Kansas City from pursuing a higher minimum wage for the city.

The legislation introduced on Wednesday states, “No political subdivision shall establish, mandate, or otherwise require an employer to provide to an employee a minimum or living wage rate or employment benefits that exceed state laws, rules, or regulations.”

The bill includes an emergency clause that would cause it go into effect as soon as it is signed by the governor. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday night in the House Rules and Administrative Oversight Committee.

With the bill already moving quickly through the legislative process, advocates for a higher minimum wage in Kansas City are urging even quicker action by City Hall.

Clinton Adams, a lawyer for the petitioners who worked to get a minimum wage increase before Kansas City voters in August, sent a letter Thursday afternoon to Kansas City Mayor Sly James and members of the City Council, encouraging the council to “act now.”

“We expect that there will be an effort to pass legislation that would prevent cities from enacting minimum wage laws and that any such statute could take effect prior to the September 1, 2017 effective date of our proposed ordinance (should it be approved in August),” Adams wrote.

As it stands, a minimum wage increase is scheduled to go before Kansas City voters on Aug. 8.

Councilman Quinton Lucas said he suggested “we take the opportunity to resolve the issue at the City Council meeting next week.…I imagine we could get nine votes to pass it immediately.”

Other council representatives Thursday afternoon were not committing to quick action. They said they wanted to wait and see what happens, and they weren’t confident of having the nine votes needed to pass an ordinance on the same day it is introduced.

The new flurry of activity follows a decision handed down Tuesday by the Missouri Supreme Court that affected a St. Louis minimum wage ordinance.

The court ruled that the state couldn’t bar St. Louis from establishing its own minimum wage, a decision that bolstered legal arguments that Kansas City voters could pass a similar increase over the state’s base wage. The court said city charter, or home rule, gave cities the ability to set a minimum higher than the state’s, which currently stands at $7.70 an hour.

But the state bill introduced by Shaul also would “pre-empt and nullify all political subdivision ordinances, rules, and regulations currently in effect or later enacted relating to the establishment or enforcement of a minimum or living wage or the provisions of employee benefits.”

“My feeling is that the state minimum wage should be the minimum wage,” Shaul said Thursday. “The legislature acted in 2015 to provide consistency across the state for employees and employers and avoid a patchwork of laws.”

Several business organizations oppose higher minimum wages in general and reject the ability of cities to create a “patchwork” of wage rates across the state.

The proposed increase in Kansas City would raise the wage floor to $10 an hour this year, and increase it by $1.25 an hour annually until 2022. The St. Louis decision addressed an increase to $11 an hour by 2018.

Shaul said, “The minimum wage wasn’t meant to be a living wage. I’m all for family sustainable wages, and I certainly don’t want a family to have to work two or three jobs to get by. But grocery store baggers and fast food work isn’t where you should be working to sustain your family.

“We need to work to bring in high paying jobs into the state. Raising the minimum wage is only going to drive businesses out of the city of St. Louis.”

Sen. Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, said that the state’s high court had “gone rogue” in the St. Louis decision, and that another pre-emption bill was warranted.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican, said the point of prohibiting local government from raising the minimum wage is to “save the cities from themselves.”

But Adams’ letter to Kansas City’s elected officials said raising the minimum wage “is an important step in improving the quality of life for many hardworking residents of our city.”

Adams wrote that it was time to counter “special interests groups (such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Missouri Restaurant Association) that are hostile to efforts requiring employers to pay workers a livable wage.”

The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock