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Republicans continue fight against STL minimum wage hike

Bills fast-tracked after last week’s MO Supreme Court decision

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Two bills aimed at restricting minimum wage increases by the state’s political subdivisions filed last Wednesday by two House Republicans will have hearings Monday afternoon in the House Rules – Administrative Oversight Committee.

Reps. Jason Chipman and Dan Shaul filed the legislation after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously last Tuesday to allow a St. Louis ordinance increasing the minimum wage to go into effect. The 2015 General Assembly overrode former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of Shaul’s HB 722 to block the ordinance from going into effect.

Chipman acknowledged the bill was currently being fast-tracked through the legislature and that it’s possible the House could pass the bill before spring break, which starts March 16.

Rep. Jason Chipman
Rep. Jason Chipman

“We are looking to ensure there is as little or no interruption to the operation of businesses in the City of St. Louis as possible,” Chipman, R-Steelville, said. “Like any business, they’re going to have a budget for labor. If their labor costs increase, they’ll have to either raise prices or lose market share… and eventually, they could go out of business.”

Most of the court signed onto Judge Laura Denvir Stith’s unanimous opinion that a prior restriction on minimum wage (HB 1636, 1998) was an example of “legislative logrolling” intended to exceed the bounds of a single piece of legislation. She also wrote the minimum wage ordinance was also well within St. Louis’ home-rule authority.

In a concurrent opinion, Judge Zel Fischer wrote Shaul’s bill stated explicitly the bill would not preempt any minimum wage law or ordinance in effect by Aug. 28, 2015. St. Louis’ ordinance went into effect on that date.

Chipman says the way the decision was written gives the General Assembly the capacity to write language that does fit within the framework of the rulings while also impeding any municipalities minimum wage increase. The pertinent language in Shaul and Chipman’s bills would end the preemption concern by stating this new law would overrule all previous laws which had less direct language on minimum wage increases like HBs 722 or 1636.

“They didn’t say anything about the intent of the law, they ruled on the procedure of how it got into law and called it a Hammerschmidt violation,” Chipman said. “They exercised their judicial authority, and we’re working along that same framework.”

Missouri Jobs With Justice Policy Director Richard von Glahn called the efforts by the Legislature “disappointing and rather shameful.” He criticized Shaul for reversing his opinion when Shaul said regarding HB 722, the minimum wage increase could go through so long as it occurred by that Aug. 28 date.

“We acted within the scope of his originally passed bill and now apparently he’s decided that bill he theoretically authored and wrote was too lenient and is working to take money out of those worker’s checks,” von Glahn said.

“It is shameful members of the Missouri Legislature are prioritizing prioritizing and fast-tracking legislation that would take money out of the checks of people who are excited to finally make $10 an hour,” von Glahn said. “We should keep in mind that is still not a lot of money.”

Jobs with Justice has long advocated for minimum wage increases at the local and statewide level. von Glahn noted multiple groups would testify in opposition to the legislation at the hearing Monday evening, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, impacted workers and community leaders.

Slay offered a statement before the hearing, calling on the General Assembly to “focus on following the city’s lead in order to help thousands of low-wage workers lift themselves off of government assistance:

“That way, workers across our State – not just in the City of St. Louis -–could see this benefit of fairer pay for an honest day’s work,” Slay said.

Missouri’s current minimum wage rate is $7.65 per hour for non-tipped workers, only 40 cents higher than the national $7.25 hourly rate.

St. Louis-based union locals also relayed their plans to combat the legislation. David Cook of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 criticized the bills as being opposed to the “small government” mindset many Republicans tout during campaigns.

“Missourians went to the polls in November and elected a lot of Republicans who ran on platforms of small government and more local control,” Cook said. “Now those same Republicans want to tell each and every city in Missouri what they can and cannot discuss and debate? That’s not small government. That’s not local control. That’s big government taking a decision away from the people.”

The UFCW will team up with the Service Employees International Union with a campaign against the legislation.

Regardless, Chipman said he had talked with the “relevant parties” and said he was confident his bill would pass.