- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Kansas City Star, March 2

The Missouri House has approved a bill exempting private and religious schools from raising the minimum wage for their workers, as state law now requires.

It was the wrong decision. Janitors, bus drivers, lunchroom employees, anyone working for an hourly wage at a private or religious school could earn less if the bill becomes law. The Missouri Senate should reject the idea for that reason alone.

But the measure is also part of a trend in Missouri and in other states to exempt religious organizations from laws that apply to everyone else. For that reason, too, the proposal should be discarded.

In 2018, Missourians voted to raise the minimum wage each year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023. This year, the minimum wage is $9.45 an hour.



Almost 1.5 million voters approved the increase. Their message was unmistakable: Low-wage earners in Missouri deserved a raise.

But Missouri state Rep. Tim Remole, a Republican from Excello, believes religious and private schools are suffering under the wage hike. Higher tuition is a burden, Remole claims, for people paying property taxes “and also for their children’s education in Christian schools.”

A modest tuition increase hardly seems too much for parents who make the choice to send their children to private schools. Moreover, it isn’t clear why a religious school should enjoy a break from higher minimum wages, while a religious bakery or coffee shop or retail store would not qualify.

We do know this: Cutting the minimum wage for religious school workers hurts those employees.

Remole is right to be worried about part of the minimum wage law that currently exempts public employers, including schools, from paying the higher wage. The exemption was included out of concern that the courts would reject the wage law as an unconstitutional imposition on local governments.

But the remedy is to fix the constitution, not to favor one private enterprise over another. (It’s also important for voters to tell elected officials to pay their employees the full minimum wage, no matter what the law says.)

That leads to our broader concern: exempting religious groups from laws that everyone else must follow.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court said Missouri violated the First Amendment when it decided a religious school in Columbia could not take part in a state-run scrap-tire program for playgrounds. We firmly endorsed that ruling.

But private religious schools can’t demand access to secular programs when it suits them, then turn around and demand an exemption from secular laws they don’t like. That’s what Remole’s bill would do.

In 1990, then-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, hardly a liberal, said this: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law.”

His ruling touched off a national scramble to enact so-called “conscience laws” protecting religious practices from burdensome secular interference. We’re still fighting about what those laws mean.

But paying a fair hourly minimum wage falls squarely on the protected side of the ledger. The legislature should reject any attempt to carve out a minimum wage exemption for religious schools.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 27

The NCAA has long engaged in a form of indentured servitude: Student athletes’ talent feeds the massive TV advertising and merchandising profit machine that is the NCAA. But if anyone points out that these fortunes are being made on the backs of kids who are paid, literally, nothing beyond their scholarships - and, worse, aren’t even allowed to profit independently from their own names or likenesses - it’s presented as some kind of wholesome learning experience.

Enough. College sports is big business. For the NCAA and its member schools to cash in on these students’ talents while denying the students themselves the right to do the same is an intolerable situation. The bipartisan measure moving through the Missouri Legislature to allow student athletes the right to their own profitability - modeled on similar measures in California and elsewhere - deserves passage.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association practices a cynical double standard regarding the amateur collegiate sports over which it reigns. It strictly prohibits its student athletes from profiting from their own names or likenesses - say, by selling autographed items or shooting commercials - on the argument that such commercialization taints the amateur purity of the sports. But at the same time, the schools those athletes attend make a bundle through television rights and other sources. The coaches of these unpaid stars make six- or seven-figure salaries. And the NCAA itself markets sports merchandise that’s in demand because of those student athletes.

Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, put it exactly right in recent committee testimony in Missouri: “Apparel companies are paying colleges in the billions of dollars to require players to serve as walking billboards to advertise their logos and products. Meanwhile, the NCAA denies players third-party compensation, claiming it’s to protect players from the forces of commercialization.”

Last year, the California Legislature fought back on behalf of the students, passing a law giving them the right to profit from their own names and likenesses. What a novel concept! The NCAA fought like a wildcat to stop it. But, facing a crimson tide of opposition, the organization has since started the process of changing its bylaws to … allow students to profit from their own names and likenesses.

Those bylaw changes aren’t yet complete, but the deluge of states preparing laws similar to California’s is likely to keep the pressure on until they are. Last year, this newspaper predicted, hopefully, that other states would follow California’s lead. Now that’s happening. Missouri is among more than 20 states currently debating such laws.

The measures don’t create salaries for those students but rather prohibit anyone from interfering in their right to profit from their own stardom in other ways. Since just about everyone else is already profiting, it’s a simple matter of fairness.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Feb. 28

We appreciate that Gov. Mike Parson has made a conscious effort to better the pay of state employees.

Last year, the Missouri Legislature followed his recommendation to approve a 3 percent pay raise, which went into effect in January.

This year, his recommendation is for a 2 percent pay raise - better than the zero percent state employees have received many years but about a third that given one year under the administration of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. (That was during a booming economy in the mid- to late 1990s.)

Many state employees are grateful for anything. But the reality is 2 percent just keeps up with inflation.

Missouri has been known in recent years for paying its state workers less than all of the other 49 states.

When they do get raises, they’re sometimes more than offset by increased health care premiums.

The state has taken steps to streamline state government and increase pay for certain workers who are hard to retain, such as in the Department of Corrections.

However, the problem of retaining a good workforce will keep rearing its ugly head if state pay doesn’t keep up with equivalent jobs in the private sector.

Unemployment remains at historically low rates at around 3.1 percent in Missouri. That means it’s a job seeker’s market. Gone are the days of lifelong relationships between employees and employers. If employees aren’t happy at one job, they jump to the next.

So we look at Parson’s recommendation as a starting point.

We hope our local delegation of lawmakers will show leadership on this issue. It’s up to them to make the case to their fellow lawmakers that, while a 2 percent increase keeps up with inflation, it’s not enough to retain employees or to change our state’s poor reputation for paying its public workforce.

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