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Kansas City Minimum Wage Petition Approved For Ballot, Despite Uncertain Legal Ground

Ken Zirkel
Voters in Kansas City may get a chance to vote on a higher minimum wage, but state law will likely make the road forward tough.

The Kansas City Council approved a petition that seeks to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 for a Nov. 3 election.

However, state law is likely to get in the way of the measure, regardless of what voters decide. When council members passed the city's minimum wage ordinance last month, they believed that a state bill forbidding local wage hikes gave a small window of opportunity.

But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed that bill, which could be considered during the Missouri General Assembly's special Sept. 16 veto session. If it's overridden, any minimum wage ordinance or petition passed by Kansas City would be in violation of state law.

In anticipation of that possibility, the council included a provision in the petition initiative that would scrap it in the event that the Legislature does override Nixon's veto.

In the council's Committee of the Whole session Thursday, City Attorney Bill Geary said that the issue was one of the most complicated he had ever encountered. 

"[The situation is confusing] because we enacted legislation, and there was an initiative petition wanting different legislation," Geary told the council. "And there's a referendum saying, 'We want to have a vote on the ordinance that you passed.'"

That referendum was put together by Missourians for Fair Wages, a coalition of business groups including the Missouri Restaurant Association  who oppose local minimum wage hikes. But Vic Allred of the Restaurant Association says that his group actually favors a statewide effort.

"We will advocate for a moderate wage increase, as long as server pay rates are capped as well," Allred said. "Whether you can get that passed through the Republican dominated Legislature is another question."

There are also currently three initiative petitions that have been approved for circulation by the Missouri Secretary of State's office that seek to put a minimum wage increase on Missouri ballots in 2016.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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