Legal or not, a city minimum wage proposed

city-hallBy Joe Lambe

City council members said today they support raising the minimum wage in the city, even if it means challenging state law.

Councilman Jermaine Reed, backed by advocates for the poor, introduced a measure to raise a living or minimum wage to $10 in September and increase it over four years to $15.

Ed Ford, chair of the Planning, Zoning & Economic Development committee, held the measure for a week after City Attorney Bill Geary reported a serious problem.

State law clearly preempts cities from raising the minimum wage, he said, and St. Louis tried it and lost in court in 2002.

The state minimum wage is now at $7.65 an hour, he said, and was last raised by a statewide citizen petition effort in 2006.

There are now various state bills pending to raise the minimum wage to from $8.50 to $10.25, he said, but there are also pending bills to forbid cities from making any laws affecting all employment conditions.

Councilman John Sharp said the fact that conservative state lawmakers have introduced stronger bills could indicate weakness.

“Apparently some of these very conservative legislators feel that the preemption is not strong enough …,” Sharp said.

He, Reed and advocates urged the committee to advance the bill today.

Ford, a lawyer, said he would hold the bill for more citizen input, more legal advice and, “I have problems recommending to the full council what the city attorney has said is illegal.”

Advocates noted that many cities nationwide have recently raised minimum wages. Geary reported that state laws did not block those cities.

Vernon Howard, a vice president with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said that it and other local groups also plan an initiative petition – if needed – to force the city to enact the law and take on the state.

“Our hope is let’s take it to a higher court,” he said, “Let’s fight for the working people in Kansas City.”

The public hearing will continue next week, Ford said.

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