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Missouri House Votes To Exempt Private Schools From Minimum Wage Increase

The Missouri House on Thursday passed legislation that would exempt private and religious school workers from statewide minimum wage increases.

The measure passed by a vote of 94 to 53. The bill aims to create parity between public and private schools, said state Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, who sponsored the proposal.

“Many of the parents just received letters that they will receive a 10% increase over the next five years because of the minimum wage law,” Remole said on the floor during debate. “Which is making it very burdensome for people that are already paying for public school taxes on their personal property and also for their children’s education in Christian schools.” 

In November 2018, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition B, which incrementally raises the state’s minimum wage each year until it reaches $12 by 2023. That ballot initiative was written to exclude workers at public entities, including public schools, after some argued that courts would likely strike down such a mandate without providing money to the affected institutions.

The initiative was approved by 62% of voters and has increased wages for teachers aides, janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others. Salaried employees are exempt from the minimum wage increase.

Those in opposition to the bill passed Thursday said it is a partial repeal of Proposition B and an attempt to undo the will of the voters. Remole said that has “nothing to do with filing the bill.” 

Others who spoke in support of the idea argued that initiative petitions tend to be driven by special interest groups, and that voters do not always get a complete picture when they’re casting their votes. 

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said the notion that what lawmakers pass in Jefferson City is driven less by special interest groups than voter referendums is “offensive.” 

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, sends his children to private school. He said he opposes the measure to exempt private schools from the increase.
Credit Tim Bommel | House Communications
State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, sends his children to private school. He said he opposes the measure to exempt private schools from the increase.

“What special interests do they think were benefiting from the minimum wage increase?” Merideth asked during floor debate. “The people that benefited from this are the people that make the least amount of money for the work they do in our society.” 

Merideth, who sends his children to a Catholic school, said voters likely wanted to raise minimum wage for public employees as well. 

Merideth said allowing janitors at his children's school to be paid "less than the minimum wage … when I’m already privileged enough to send my kids to a private school, that too is offensive.”

State Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, offered an amendment to the bill that would have extended the minimum wage to all public employees, including firefighters and EMTs who are exempt from the current law. That amendment failed to gain enough support. 

State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, supported Remole’s idea. He said this measure doesn’t require private schools to pay employees less. 

“This doesn’t say that when this bill goes into effect, everybody gets a 25% cut across the board,” Fitzwater said. “That’s a silly argument to make. And so, what we’re doing is just trying to level the playing field. The public schools already have this opportunity under the law that was passed. We’re just allowing private schools to have the same opportunity.” 

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where Republican leaders did not yet say whether they supported the idea but on Thursday called it “an interesting concept.”

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter:  @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.
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