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Do Missouri cities have the right to set their own minimum wage? Ask Missouri’s Supreme Court


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In a five-year period, Missouri’s minimum wage has raised by a total of 35 cents.

In 2013, a minimum wage worker could expect $7.35 an hour. Four years later and three increases later, a Missouri worker should expect $7.70 while working in a minimum wage job in 2017.

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But while those raises have implemented an increase of 15 cents or less per year, the costs of everyday needs continue rising due to inflation, leading to the call for an increased minimum wage.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage say that there’s plenty of data to show that simply raising the wages is not enough to combat poverty. Still, others contend that the issue of the minimum wage should not be dictated by the government, saying that it is a decision that should be handled by the marketplace.

“When government gets involved and deciding how much someone is going to make, you move beyond from the free market capitalism and into the socialism/communism type of attitudes,” Rep. John Wiemann said in a 2015 airing of This Week in Missouri Politics. “I certainly don’t support any type of a mandatory amount we should pay someone – that should be dictated by the marketplace.”

A number of cities have tried to take the matter into their own hands, despite a law enacted by the Missouri Legislature in the 2015 veto session prohibiting a local minimum wage exceeding the requirements laid out by federal or state law. 

David Jackson, managing partner of the Gateway Group, has been vocal on the issue.

“There are multiple places in state statute that restrict a city’s ability to impose a minimum wage,” Jackson said. “In addition to Chapter 67, that clearly says no municipality shall do it, we also have a section that establishes a state minimum wage.”

The reasoning behind the measure was to prevent inconsistencies across the state.

But right now, the issue remains about as clear as mud.

Kansas City approved an ordinance in July of 2015 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2020 after a group of supporters gathered signatures for a petition to put a measure on the November ballot in 2015. It was then tied up in court because of the ban. After a circuit court judge sided with the city, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court, who ruled in January of 2017 that the city “must take all steps necessary” to put the ordinance before the voters.

The Supreme Court has dictated that such an ordinance must be voted on by the citizens, but still has to decide whether Missouri cities do have the right to set their own minimum wages.

But the questions still remained unanswered.

“It’s possible that the statute that prohibits cities from setting their own minimum wage is unconstitutional,” attorney Chuck Hatfield said. “And it’s possible that the Supreme Court would find, in spite of the statute, that the city does have that power.”

A minimum wage ordinance passed in 2015 in St. Louis that sought to raise the wage to $11 by 2018 is also in the mix. A circuit court judge struck the ordinance down, as the city was sued by several employers and business organizations, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Missouri is still currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court in that matter.

Jackson and others contend that Missouri laws supersede municipal laws, as they are political subdivisions of the state, and are subject to state law. Still, proponents of the minimum wage reference a disconnect with the state lawmakers, pointing to a vote in which Missourians approved a wage raising, saying that lawmakers went against voters. They say that it’s time for Missourians to take matters into their own hands.

“If the state legislature can’t act, then it’s time for local leaders to do the job,” Sean Nicholson, the former executive director of Progress Missouri, said in a 2015 airing of This Week in Missouri Politics.

If the Supreme Court does stand by the statute, then the only way for the people to raise the minimum wage will be through legislation. Currently, four Representatives have filed legislation concerning the minimum wage this session.

Reps. Brandon Ellington and Joshua Peters both have filed legislation seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Rep. Michael Butler also filed a bill to increase to $15 in addition to an increase of percentages paid to employees working for tips.

Rep. Mark Ellebracht has proposed a gradual increase based on a number of hours worked each week, which would lead to an increase of $15 per hour for full-time employees.

In the Senate, Sens. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Jamilah Nasheed have filed separate bills seeking to modify the minimum wage laws. Chappelle-Nadal’s SB 91 proposes a $15 minimum wage, while Nasheed’s SB 254 proposes a more modest $10 hourly wage.