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Judge orders Minneapolis $15 minimum wage question to ballot

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Aug. 22–A Hennepin County Judge has overruled the Minneapolis City Council’s decision to block a $15 minimum wage charter amendment from the ballot, ordering that the issue be placed on the November ballot.

Judge Susan Robiner issued her decision Monday, more than a week after she heard arguments from advocates who gathered enough signatures to send the issue to voters. The City Council, following the legal opinion of City Attorney Susan Segal, had previously voted to prevent the proposal from reaching the ballot. A majority of council members said they believed the issue was not a proper subject for a charter amendment, the only type of action allowed to be put to a direct vote.

In her opinion, Robiner wrote that the city’s interpretation of the language in its own charter — the document that outlines the framework for municipal government — was too narrow. Segal had argued that only a limited number of issues could be considered as charter amendments, while other questions would require the council to vote directly to create or change an ordinance.

Attorneys for the wage-amendment supporters, meanwhile, had contended that a wage increase would amount to a matter of the general health and welfare of the city, and should be considered as part of the charter. Robiner agreed, noting that no previous legal cases have validated the city’s legal arguments.

“There is no precedent holding that initiative and referendum is the only citizen power to legislate on matters of general welfare and that the power to amend a charter, with its constitutional right to citizen access, is something qualitatively different and lesser,” she wrote.

The judge’s decision means that supporters of the higher wage, including the groups 15 Now Minnesota, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, will have just over two months to convince voters that Minneapolis’ minimum wage should be among the highest in the nation. Only a handful of other cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have approved a $15 minimum wage.

The Minneapolis groups’ petition, which was turned in with the valid signatures of 8,418 registered voters, calls for employers to pay of minimum wage of $10 per hour starting in 2017, and incrementally raising the wage to $15 per hour by 2020 for businesses with 500 or more employees. Smaller businesses would have to pay at least $15 per hour by 2022. Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $9.50 per hour for large businesses and $7.75 per hour for small businesses and workers under the age of 18. Statewide, wages are set to increased based on inflation starting in 2018.

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