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After judge tosses Miami Beach living wage ordinance, Phil Levine may pursue constitutional amendment

The City of Miami Beach lost the first round of a battle to raise the minimum living wage to $13.31 an hour.

Nevertheless, Mayor Philip Levine vows he will fight back, possibly with a constitutional amendment to get the law through.

After Levine signed the law last June to gradually raise Miami Beach’s minimum wage from the state’s $8.10 to $13.31 by 2021, a number of business groups filed suit.

On Monday, Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Peter R. Lopez ruled the ordinance was not valid under the 2003 Florida law, which prohibits any local municipality from establishing a minimum-wage law. Even though Florida voters approved a minimum-wage increase in 2004, the judge ruled it did not change the 2003 statute.

In response, Levine says he always expected the case would go to the Florida Supreme Court.

“(I)t’s a sad day when tax dollars are being used to fight against efforts that put working Floridians on a path to economic stability,” Levine said. “The legal bills being racked up by the state, in conjunction with the Tallahassee insiders, will only add to the over $200 million already wasted on legal battles that pitted the government against the people.”

Miami Beach’s lead counsel Robert Rosenwald, said the city will file an immediate appeal, saying that the 2004 constitutional amendment rejected the 2003 state law.

According to Rosenwald:

“The court simply got it wrong. It ignored controlling Florida Supreme Court precedent holding that when a prior statute conflicts with the will of the people expressed in a constitutional amendment, it is the people’s judgment that controls. The decision not only ignores the policy enacted by the people and the authority of the Florida Supreme Court but also ignores the opinion of Florida’s leading constitutional scholars who filed a legal brief agreeing that the legislature’s ban is unlawful. This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us and for the people of the State of Florida but ultimately the policy of the people allowing higher local minimum wages will stand.”

After Miami Beach approved an ordinance last year raising its minimum wage, Levine predicted the state would challenge the proposal in court.

The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in December challenging the ordinance, and were joined by the state of Florida last month.

Levine, who is testing the waters for a possible run for governor next year, also suggests he may back an effort to put the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment in 2018.

“I am committed to seeing this issue through and will take it to the people through a referendum because we know Florida families cannot survive on today’s minimum wage,” he says.

Miami Beach enacted its minimum wage ordinance in June 2016 based on evidence and testimony demonstrating that the city’s workers simply could not make ends meet on the state’s $8.10 minimum wage (just $16,200 a year for a full-time worker). The city has one of Florida’s highest costs of living.

“The court’s ruling invalidating Miami Beach’s minimum wage ordinance — and upholding the legislature’s ban on cities’ addressing local needs for higher wages — is unfortunate and will hurt communities across the state,” said Christine Owens with the National Employment Law Project. “It also flies in the face of the opinion of leading constitutional experts, who filed a legal brief agreeing that the legislature’s ban was illegal.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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