- Associated Press - Saturday, April 11, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City officials say they sympathize with efforts by civil rights and religious leaders to raise the local minimum wage in an effort to improve the plight of the working poor.

But Mayor Sly James and other lawyers on the City Council insist such a move would violate state law and put the city at risk of backlash from state officials.

“We can do only those things that the state allows us to do,” Councilman Ed Ford, an attorney, told The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1cltz9I ). Missouri law plainly forbids the adoption of local minimum wage ordinances, he said.

Last month City Councilman Jermaine Reed introduced an ordinance raising the city’s mandatory minimum wage from the current state-set minimum of $7.65 per hour to $10 per hour as of Sept. 1. The wage would increase yearly until it reached $15 an hour by September 2020.

“A lot of employers have stepped up to the plate and offered their employees a living wage,” Reed said. “It’s important that we do increase it to keep up with the changing times.”

Reed’s measure went to the council’s planning, zoning and economic development hearing on April 1, but didn’t get put to a vote. Instead, the ordinance has moved to the full City Council, with James saying it’s too important for a single committee to consider.

No hearings have been scheduled as the city studies the measure’s legal ramifications.

There has been considerable pushback from the restaurant and business communities in other cities that have proposed raising their mandatory minimum wage, Ford said. But that’s not happened yet in Kansas City because the business community knows the city can’t do it.

“So why should they waste any efforts?” he said.

James and others said they worry that the local civil rights effort could prompt a push-back from the state. For instance, bills pending in the Missouri House and Senate would impose even greater restrictions on cities regarding employment benefits and terms of employment.

Both bills - which are backed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce - are to be considered Tuesday.

Supporters of the ordinance say they can’t be deterred by fear of what the government might do.

Vernon Howard, executive vice president of social justice for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said there are too many struggling people in the urban core.

“Do we want to keep people stuck in a cycle of dependence and poverty, or do we want to begin to take the hard road to allow people to be independent,” Howard said, “and raise the bottom so that workers can have dignity.”


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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