JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While labor unions across the state celebrated the failure of the “Right-to-Work” bill to make it out of the House of Representatives during Wednesday’s veto session, government officials, community activists and business owners in St. Louis and Kansas City kept their eyes trained on the progress of HB722, the “Bag Bill.”
The piece of legislation initially deemed that cities could not ban plastic bags, but after amendments in the regular session, it also deemed that the state had the sole authority to increase the minimum wage.
When Senate Republicans overrode the veto on the “Bag Bill” late Wednesday night, pro-business people on the right celebrated as officials in St. Louis and Kansas City saw their efforts to increase the minimum wage in their cities over the last few months tumble down the drain.
“Today is a loss for accountable, local governing,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said. “I hope when voters realize the state took away their ability to improve their cities and the lives of the people who live in them, they will use their frustration to take on the legislators who abandoned them.”
Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and many Republicans said that possible inconsistencies in minimum wages across municipalities would hurt business and economic development in the state.
“Our effort here was focused on trying to bring some certainty to what the policy looks like to the rest of the state,” Richardson said. “I do think it does have an impact on the legislation in Kansas City, whether it has an impact on the hike in St. Louis will be up to the state to decide.”
Richardson was not wrong about the impact on Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reported that the Kansas City Council told election officials to take the minimum wage measure off the ballot should the veto override of HB722 succeed.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay recently signed off on a minimum wage increase that would take effect in mid-October. That measure is currently undergoing litigation and will be ruled on next month, but this new piece of legislation is sure to factor into the outcome of that case.
Newly elected President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said it was merely a reinforcement of current laws on the books.
“It is a law,” Richard said. “These cities cannot have a minimum wage, and we had to reinforce that because apparently the cities are ignoring that.”
However, another law may trouble Republicans and offer some bit of respite for municipalities hoping to have control over whether or not to raise the minimum wage within their city limits. Several Democrats believe that the Missouri Supreme Court’s Hammerschmidt ruling may stop the law from taking effect.
Hammerschmidt affirms a provision in the Missouri Constitution that bars legislation containing more than one subject. A judge will have to decide if plastic bags and minimum wage fit under the same subject, and Republicans have argued that the bill is simply one that removes certain provisions from municipal governments and gives the right to decide on those issues to the state legislature.
“We had a couple of point of orders during the regular session that [Former President Pro Tem Tom] Dempsey ruled on, and we believe those same rulings and reasons behind those rulings give us good standing there,” Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said. Kehoe was the Senate handler for the bill. “When an issue like this is challenged, typically the attorney general would provide representation for the Missouri Senate on that. So, it would be up to AG [Chris] Koster for him to weigh in and protect us on that, if not, we’ll seek our own counsel.”
Kehoe championed the bill throughout the regular session and continued his defense of the legislation during the veto session, saying that the bill protected business owners from paying exorbitant expenditures.
“I went for a year and a half without taking a paycheck in my business,” Kehoe said. “Anybody who’s here who’s been in a business has been through the ups and downs of having zero to make sure that your employees get paid and so your other obligations get met. And certainly I wouldn’t compare myself to someone who’s working minimum wage right now, but that’s what employers have to go through on their end of the spectrum.
“This is something that’s market-driven and should continue to be market-driven. I believe that Missouri employers are going to try to retain their employees the best they can and compensate them the best they can and the factors within any one of those given markets will continue to determine that.”
Daniel P. Mehan, the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agreed with Kehoe’s assessment.
“These discussions need to happen in the state legislature, where lawmakers can adopt a statewide policy that applies to all businesses,” Mehan said in a statement. “When cities pass business ordinances on their own, they create a patchwork of confusing regulations that ultimately make our state less attractive for business investment. On behalf of the business community, I’d like to thank the legislature for addressing this important issue.”
Still, others find only desolation in such a decision from the legislature. Rev. Susan G. McCann of Communities Creating Opportunity and Jobs with Justice is one of them.
“It’s shameful that once again Missourians who are struggling to afford child care or put food on the table for their family will have their needs relegated to the sidelines, so that CEOs can increase their bottom line,” McCann said.