Mar 2, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ST. LOUIS MINIMUM WAGE ORDINANCE

The Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 28 unanimously reinstated a 2015 St. Louis City ordinance that ultimately will boost the citywide minimum wage to $11 an hour. The high court ruled that, contrary to a lower court’s ruling, the city’s ordinance isn’t preempted by state law.

The St. Louis ordinance called for increasing the local minimum wage in phases. The first increase, setting the wage at $8.25 an hour, was set to take effect on Oct. 15, 2015. However, a day before that was to happen, a city circuit judge ruled state law prohibited local minimum wages that are higher than the state minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.70 an hour.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that a 1998 state law prohibiting higher local minimum wages was unconstitutionally enacted and invalid. Furthermore, the court said a 2015 law attempting to do the same didn’t apply to the St. Louis ordinance because the law contained a grandfather clause specifically allowing local wage laws that had already been enacted to remain in effect.

Because the ordinance has been on hold for more than a year, two subsequent scheduled increases beyond the initial planned hike didn’t happen. The latest, which should have kicked in on Jan. 1 of this year, sets the city’s minimum wage at $10 an hour.

Following the court’s ruling, it wasn’t immediately clear when the city’s wage ordinance will begin being enforced and if it will immediately be set at $10 an hour. Under the ordinance, there will be one final hike on Jan. 1, 2018, that will take the citywide minimum wage to $11 an hour.

 

SENATE APPROVES WEAKENING ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW

Following 12 hours of debate, the Senate on March 1 gave first-round approval to legislation that will make it harder for victims of illegal workplace discrimination to successfully sue their employer. A second vote is required to send the measure, Senate Bill 43 to the House of Representatives.

The bill would modify the Missouri Human Rights Act to raise the bar for victims to prove they were disciplined, fired or otherwise punished for a discriminatory reason. A compromise struck to end a Democratic filibuster somewhat scaled back the new hurdles called for by SB 43, but suing for discrimination would remain significantly more difficult under the revised bill than under existing law.

The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability. The Senate voted 20-10 to reject an amendment to SB 43 adding sexual orientation and identity to the list of protected classes. Two Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the amendment, while all of the opposition came from Republicans.

 

APPELLATE COMMISSION PICKS SUPREME COURT FINALISTS

Two lower-court judges and a St. Louis attorney are the finalists to fill the state Supreme Court vacancy created by the Nov. 29 death of Judge Richard Teitelman. The constitutionally independent Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission selected the three finalists on March 1 from among 31 applicants following two days of interviews.

Among those making the cut is Missouri Court of Appeals Western District Judge Lisa White Hardwick who, if appointed, would be the first African-American woman on the state Supreme Court and also give the court an all-female majority for the first time. Hardwick has twice been appointed to the bench by Democratic governors, with Gov. Mel Carnahan picking her for a Jackson County Circuit judgeship in 2000 and Gov. Bob Holden elevating her to the Court of Appeals in 2001.

The other finalists are Jackson County Circuit W. Brent Powell, a 2008 appointee of Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, and Benjamin Lipman, an attorney with the St. Louis law firm Lewis Rice.

Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, has through April 23 to pick one of the finalists or forfeit the selection to the commission. During his campaign for office, Greitens advocated for doing away with the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, under which the governor plays a limited role in judicial selection, in favor of allowing governors to appoint whomever they want.

In 2012, the Republican-controlled General Assembly put a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot that sought to give the governor significantly more influence over judicial selection, but voters crushed it with 76 percent opposed.