Arizona Minimum Wage Law Challenged

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona unconstitutionally seized control over minimum wages despite a voter-approved proposition that gave cities and counties the authority to set wage rates, a Flagstaff coalition claims in court.
     The Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition and two of its members filed sued Arizona and its Attorney General Mark Brnovich on April 10 in Maricopa County Court.
     Arizona voters passed the “Raise the Arizona Minimum Wage for Working Arizonans Act” in 2006, authorizing cities and counties to set minimum wages and other benefits.
     Seven years later, the Arizona Legislature passed House Bill 2280 , removing that local control.
     The bill states: “The regulation of employee benefits, including compensation, paid and unpaid leave and other absences, meal breaks and rest periods, is of statewide concern. The regulation of employee benefits pursuant to this chapter and federal law is not subject to further regulation by a city, town or other political subdivision of this state.”
     The Arizona House approved the bill 32 to 27, and the Senate by 17 to 11.
     But the coalition claims the 1998 voter-approved “Voter Protection Act” prohibited the Legislature from repealing a voter-approved referendum or initiative unless its law furthers the goal of the referendum or is approved by at least three-fourths of each chamber.
     House Bill 2280 did not receive a supermajority in both houses.
     “Lo and behold, in 2013, just a mere seven years later, the state Legislature tried to change that by taking that right away from localities and seizing that right from local government to set local minimum wages,” coalition attorney Mikkel Jordahl said Monday. “One big huge problem with that – it violates the Arizona Constitution and the Voter Protection Act.”
     The lawsuit cites a study based on U.S. Department of Labor data that “ranked Flagstaff as having the lowest private-sector wages in the United States when adjusted for cost of living.”
     The Arizona cities of Prescott, Kingman and Lake Havasu City also made the list of cities with the lowest average wages.
     “It’s an issue about social justice and basic human rights, so that everybody has access to a better life,” said Frankie Beesley, a Flagstaff resident speaking for the coalition.
     “We believe the wage floor should be high enough to lift working people from poverty, to bring dignity back to work, and to meet workers’ basic needs without the aid of government assistance.”
     Arizona Corporation Commissioner Tom Forese, a former Republican state representative and the bill’s sponsor, was unavailable to comment Tuesday.
     The Arizona Attorney General’s Office did not return a request for comment.
     Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the 2013 law is unconstitutional, and that control over minimum wages should be returned to Arizona counties, cities, and towns.
     They are represented by Mikkel Jordahl of Flagstaff.

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