A Hennepin County judge on Monday overruled the Minneapolis City Council's decision to block a $15 minimum wage charter amendment, ordering that the issue be placed on the November ballot.
Judge Susan Robiner issued her decision 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, previously had 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, 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 arguments.
"The city also argues that by not providing initiative and referendum power to its citizens, Minneapolis has chosen to deny its citizens the power to legislate on issues affecting the general welfare," she wrote. "This argument … is not supported by reported case law."
On a separate charter amendment proposal also blocked by the city — which would have required police officers to carry professional liability insurance — Robiner sided with the City Council. Council members had voted to keep that issue from the ballot because of potential conflicts with state laws requiring cities to cover employees in legal matters.
Organizers with the Committee for Professional Policing, which submitted the proposal, could not be reached for comment.
City appeal ahead?
City officials did not say whether they planned to appeal the judge's ruling on the minimum wage proposal, but they applauded the decision on the police insurance plan.
"We are pleased with the court's conclusion on the police liability insurance proposal, but respectfully disagree with the ruling on the minimum wage proposal," Segal said in a statement. "We are conferring with city leadership to determine the city's response."
The city would need to appeal within a few days. The deadline to submit items for the ballot to Hennepin County is Aug. 26.
Barring a higher court reversal, the judge's decision means 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.
Advocates said Monday that they are optimistic. They pointed to poll results they released last week that showed 68 percent of 400 voters surveyed said they'd vote in favor of a $15 minimum wage.
Some council support
Supporters — including Council Members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon, the only two council members who voted to put the minimum wage issue on the ballot — cheered the judge's decision in social media posts. Council Member Andrew Johnson, who had said he believed the city had legal standing to put the police insurance proposal on the ballot, but not the minimum wage amendment, issued an apology.
"With the information I had at the time I felt it was clear that the minimum wage amendment was not legal and would not hold up in court, but it would appear that the majority and I were wrong, and for that I am sorry," he wrote on Facebook.
The Minneapolis groups' petition, which was turned in with the valid signatures of 8,418 registered voters, calls for employers to pay a minimum wage of $10 per hour starting in 2017. The wage would rise incrementally 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. The amendment would not allow employers to include tips in their calculation of hourly wages.
The state's minimum wage is now $9.50 for large businesses and $7.75 for small businesses and workers under 18. Statewide, the minimum wage is set to increase based on inflation starting in 2018.