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Battle over minimum wage in Missouri shifts to new front

  

ST. LOUIS -The veto override of HB 722, better known as the “Bag Bill,” changed two major laws regarding prohibited ordinances by political subdivisions and municipalities.

First, the original language from when the bill was first introduced by Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, proposed a moratorium on the banning of plastic bags by individual cities. The more contentious part of the legislation came when amendments included provisions that would forbid municipalities from raising the minimum wage, instead leaving it up to the General Assembly to decide.

“That was such wide ranging legislation, I think when people take a minute to see what passed there are tons of unintended consequences,” Director Lara Granich of Missouri Jobs for Justice said.

She believes that the legislature’s decision to institute what she called a “tremendous intrusion of Jefferson City into the power of local bodies” demands immediate action.

“We need to address the crisis of poverty wages and workers not being able to support their families,” Granich said. “The legislature has had an opportunity to take action, and they have failed to do so. So, we need to take this issue into our own hands.”

Just before veto session and the override of the “Bag Bill,” Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved the language of seven initiative petitions submitted by Missouri Jobs for Justice. Each one would raise the minimum wage statewide a certain amount with a gradual timeline for the adoption of each wage. Granich says the group is taking steps to see which wage increase would be most acceptable to voters.

The smallest increase would make the minimum wage $11.00/hour by 2019, and the largest increase would make that figure $15.00/hour by 2023. After determining the proper wage, they will circulate that language in hopes of getting it on the ballot.

Granich is optimistic that at least one will stand up to scrutiny and not just make it on the ballot but also pass in next year’s election.

“Public opinion has been changing really fast on this issue, and people’s sense of what is possible and is good for the economy is shifting,” she said.

Just after veto session adjourned, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, the senate handler of HB 722, said he believed a minimum wage issue should be up to the state legislature and said he did not believe the issue should be put on the ballot.

“The conversation should happen in the legislature and the executive branch,” he reiterated Wednesday. “I believe employers small and large are going to pay what they can. If the employee thinks they’re not making enough there’s options where that employee can go.

“We want to make sure we’re rewarding hard-working people. We don’t want to have to have government over-regulate business.”

Kehoe added that he currently did not believe the economy favors a minimum wage increase, citing that higher minimum wage jobs can price teenagers out of part-time employment opportunities, but he has heard the concerns of the opposing side of the argument. He also believes a “careful conversation” on the issue should be had by the General Assembly. Since wage increases are now out of the hands of local municipalities, Granich agrees with Kehoe that ideally the legislature should be the place to have the debate.

“If the legislature is willing to take action, I think that would be fantastic,” she said just before adding that a “nickels and dimes” increase would not be enough to support working families.

“I would hope they take meaningful action,” she amended. “It’s what they’re elected to do.”