JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that a minimum wage ballot measure must go to Kansas City voters.

On Jan. 17, the high court reversed a Jackson County judge's ruling that kept a proposed ordinance that would have raised the minimum wage in Kansas City to $15 per hour from appearing on a Nov. 3, 2015 ballot.

Missouri minimum wage is currently $7.70 per hour.

At the trial court level, the city had successfully argued that the proposed ordinance would have contradicted state statute, while the Rev. Samuel E. Mann, who leads the legal action, argued that the statute cited was unconstitutional.

Mann appealed to the state Supreme Court, which found in his favor. The appeal went directly to the Supreme Court rather than an appellate court because the matter questioned the validity of a state statute.

Justice Paul Wilson, who authored the opinion, reversed the lower court's decision on the ground that the city’s claim and Mann's claim were premature.

"Accordingly, the City is ordered to take all steps necessary to have the Committee’s proposed ordinance placed before City voters in accordance with the City Charter," he wrote.

Wilson also wrote that challenges as to whether an ordinance – if approved by voters – would be invalid under the statute in question, as well as constitutional challenges to the validity of the statute itself, "remain hypothetical unless and until the voters have adopted the measure. Then, but only then, may courts entertain such challenges."  

According to court records, Mann and his supporters had collected enough signatures to bring the proposal to the City Council for consideration. After the council failed to adopt the ordinance, Mann and his supporters exercised their rights under city charter to insist that the proposal go to voters.

Initially, the city called for a special election for the purpose of deciding the minimum wage increase. But a month later it sought to remove it from the ballot, arguing that if it were passed it would be invalid because the ordinance would conflict with a law that prohibits local governments after Aug. 28, 2015, from enacting local minimum wage requirements more than what are imposed by state and federal laws.

The Supreme Court ruling was unanimous in favor of Mann and his supporters.

"Courts should no more prohibit City voters from considering this proposed minimum wage ordinance on the ground that it would (if approved) conflict with section 285.055 than they should enjoin the City council from considering a bill addressing the same subject," Wilson wrote. "Instead, in both cases, the proper course is to wait and see if the proposal is enacted before considering challenges to an ordinance’s substance or effect."

Justices Patricia Breckenridge, Zel Fischer, Laura Stith, George Draper and Mary Russell concurred.

"Because all of the Charter’s initiative petition provisions were followed (or, at least, because the City raised no challenges with respect to the Committee’s compliance with them), there is no basis on which a court may prohibit the City voters from considering the proposed minimum wage ordinance," he wrote.

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