By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — In a case being watched by business groups and local governments, the city of Miami Beach is asking the Florida Supreme Court to act quickly in a battle about the legality of a local minimum wage.
Justices last month, in a 4-3 decision, agreed to take up the city’s appeal of a ruling that blocked a minimum-wage ordinance from taking effect. The ordinance, approved in 2016, had been planned to set the minimum wage in the city at $10.31 an hour this year, with annual incremental increases to $13.31 an hour in January 2021.
The statewide minimum wage this year is $8.25 an hour.
Attorneys for the city filed a legal brief at the Supreme Court this week and asked justices to rule by Jan. 1. Such a quick timetable would allow a higher minimum wage to take effect in January if the city wins the case.
“Obviously, all of the low wage workers in the city are suffering immediate, continuing, and irreparable harm every day that they await a decision by this court,” the city attorneys argued in the brief Tuesday. “That harm will increase exponentially on January 1, 2019, and continue for every paycheck thereafter, if they are not awarded the second incremental increase provided by the ordinance.”
Siding with opponents such as the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in December ruled that state law blocks Miami Beach from moving forward with the minimum wage. The appeals court said a state “preemption” law prevents local governments from establishing minimum wages.
The case, in part, focuses on a 2004 constitutional amendment that created a higher minimum wage in Florida than the federal minimum wage. Miami Beach contended that the constitutional amendment also allowed it to set a different minimum wage.
But the appeals court said an earlier state law prevented local governments from setting minimum wages and that the constitutional amendment did not change that “preemption” law.
“Certainly, had the drafters of (the constitutional amendment) wanted to restrict the Legislature’s ability to prohibit a municipality from adopting its own minimum wage ordinance, they could have employed clear and direct language to achieve that purpose,” a panel of the appeals court said. “For whatever reason, the drafters of the provision chose not to incorporate such language in the text of the amendment and we decline city’s invitation to do so by judicial fiat.”
But attorneys for the city disputed that interpretation of the 2004 constitutional amendment in the brief filed this week.
“The city’s ordinance is … valid because the earlier enacted preemption statute, which prohibited local minimum wage ordinances, conflicts with the later enacted 2004 minimum wage amendment that explicitly states that it does not prohibit higher local minimum wage ordinances,” the brief said.
The business groups and Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office argued that the Supreme Court should not take up the case. But the court issued an order Aug. 29 accepting the case. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga supported the move, while Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson were opposed.
In the order, the court did not set a date for oral arguments.
Along with the business groups, local governments also are watching the case. The Florida League of Cities and the International Municipal Lawyers Association received approval Wednesday to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Miami Beach.