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Friday, April 10, 2020

Florida Supreme Court allows minimum wage ballot question


By Scott Holland | Jan 24, 2020

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TALLAHASSEE — The Supreme Court of Florida unanimously decided to permit a ballot initiative that would increase the state’s minimum wage.

Per statutory requirement, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the state’s top court to weigh in on a petition to amend the state constitution to increase the minimum wage from $6.15 to $10 per hour in 2021, climbing to $15 per hour in 2026, after which increases would be pegged to the rate of inflation. She also called for the court to review a corresponding financial impact statement from the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, but the panel said it lacked the jurisdiction to do so.

Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote the opinion, a corrected version of which was issued Dec. 19. Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muñiz concurred.

According to the opinion, Moody said the proposal violated a state law that limits possible amendments to single subjects that can’t substantially change the functions of multiple branches of government.

“The proposed amendment clearly addresses only one subject, raising the minimum wage, and it does not substantially alter or perform the functions of multiple branches of government,” Canady wrote. “Although it may affect contracts entered into and wages paid by each branch of government, these effects are incidental to the chief purpose of the amendment.”

The panel also reviewed whether the ballot title and summary complied with a state law governing brevity and clarity. Canady said the title clearly and accurately identifies the subject matter and the summary is clear and unambiguous, while both fall well within the allotted word counts.

“Indeed, the ballot summary is nearly identical to the language of the proposed amendment itself,” Canady said.  "It explains in a straightforward and accurate manner how the proposed changes to article X, section 24 of the Florida Constitution would affect the existing system — by raising the minimum wage incrementally on an annual basis to a certain point and then resuming the existing system of adjusting the minimum wage annually for inflation.”

Turning to the financial impact statement, the justices said the court’s own finding in a 2007 advisory opinion on a different ballot issue was “clearly erroneous” and that the court in fact lacks jurisdiction to review such statements. The court cited part of the constitution requiring the attorney general to seek review of initiative petitions and noted that in that section “none of the three quoted provisions mention financial impact statements,” which are addressed in a different article.

“In the scheme the Legislature enacted for the preparation and publication of financial impact statements, the Legislature expressly contemplated this Court’s review of such statements,” Canady said. “However, that contemplation does not, in itself, give us jurisdiction.”

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