In 2016, a year that saw a wave of ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage in various states and localities, the city of Miami Beach, Florida, passed an ordinance to raise the local pay floor to $10.31 per hour at the start of this year and gradually raise it further to $13.31 by 2021—well above Florida’s state minimum wage, which currently stands at $8.10. Local political leaders said at the time that the higher pay floor was meant to help workers cope with the high cost of living in the city, among the highest in the state.
The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and Florida Chamber of Commerce sued the city in December 2016 to prevent the law from going into effect, arguing that it was preempted by state law. Last March, a state circuit court ruled against the city, which appealed to a higher district court.
In December, that court upheld the judgment against Miami Beach, finding that a state law enacted in 2003 preventing local governments from establishing a higher minimum wage than the state or federal standard was still in force despite a later decision by voters in the state to raise the minimum wage statewide. Sarah Smith Kuehnel, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in St. Louis, went over the court’s reasoning when that ruling was handed down last month:
In 2004, Florida voters passed a citizens’ initiative to amend the Florida Constitution, establishing a higher, statewide minimum wage. The amendment expressly allowed “the state legislature [and] any other public body,” to increase the minimum hourly rate above the federal standard, but it left subsection two of section 218.077 intact, without addressing whether local governments can establish their own wage floors. …
The Third District Court of Appeal for Florida [explained] that “the relevant provision of the amendment contains no language expressly nullifying or limiting the statute’s preemption provision.” Since “the drafters of the provision chose not to incorporate such language in the text of the amendment,” the court concluded that “the 2004 constitutional amendment did not nullify the State’s wage preemption statute, which indeed does prohibit local minimum wage ordinances.”
Miami Beach intends to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the minimum wage hike is invalid. Florida is not the only state to go after cities attempting to raise their own minimum wages: Last summer, the Missouri legislature passed a law preventing local governments from doing so, which overturned an ordinance passed in St. Louis in 2015 and effectively lowered the minimum wage in that city from $10 per hour back to the state standard of $7.70.
Other states, such as Indiana, have enacted similar preemption laws in the past year to prevent local jurisdictions from regulating employment through local ordinances such as “ban-the-box” provisions. Lawmakers in several other states and cities where voters opted to raise the minimum wage in 2016 have sought to reverse or water down those initiatives, arguing that higher pay floors will deter businesses from operating in their jurisdictions and make it more difficult for young or inexperienced workers to find jobs.
These preemption laws are becoming more common, particularly in states with conservative governments that want to prevent their more liberal cities from enacting their own employment laws. This can create tricky situations for employers in places like St. Louis, where the minimum wage first rose and then fell, meaning employers had to decide whether to maintain their entry-level wages at the higher rate or roll them back at the risk of hurting employee morale.