“Show Me” the Vote in Missouri Preemption Law Challenge

Last year, the Missouri General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto and enacted a law prohibiting political subdivisions from adopting an ordinance requiring a minimum wage or an employment benefit beyond that required by federal or state law, i.e., a preemption law. “Employment benefits” included paid or unpaid sick leave.

In 2015, a group in Kansas City, MO, referred to as the “Committee,” collected enough signatures to place the issue of increasing the City’s minimum wage on the November 2015 ballot. The City of Kansas City sued, seeking to remove that initiative from the ballot. The trial court agreed that the ordinance, if enacted, would violate a state statute and directed that the minimum wage initiative be removed from the ballot.

Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed that decision and directed that Kansas City let voters vote on the proposed minimum wage ordinance. The Court held that the City’s challenge to the ballot initiative was premature because the issue is “hypothetical unless and until the voters have adopted the measure.”

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If voters reject the minimum wage increase, the issue will likely have been resolved. If voters approve the minimum wage increase, in any litigation that follows, the Committee can raise its alternative argument that the preemption law is invalid because it violated certain procedural requirements in the Missouri Constitution.

While this case deals with the minimum wage, it is very relevant to paid sick leave since the preemption law being challenged prohibits municipalities from adopting a paid sick leave law as well. Given the time to submit the issue to voters and then pursue a legal challenge if voters approve the increase, and then appeals, the Missouri preemption issue will not likely be resolved finally for years.