Miami Beach Minimum-Wage Ordinance Struck Down

(CN) – Striking down a minimum-wage ordinance in Miami Beach, a Florida appeals court said the Florida Legislature is the only one with the authority to raise wages in the Sunshine State.

Writing for a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal on Dec. 13, Judge Edwin Scales pointed to language in a state minimum wage law adopted in 2003 that specifically prohibits cities from changing wages.

As described in the 8-page opinion, Miami Beach commissioners unanimously voted in 2016 to raise the local minimum wage from the state’s $8.10 an hour to $10.31 in 2018, and then to increase it incrementally until reaching $13.31.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida Retail Federation immediately filed suit, alleging the city usurped the state’s constitutional powers. A Miami-Dade circuit court judge agreed and ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.

City officials argued on appeal that an amendment to the state constitution allowed for a minimum-wage increase above the federal level. In that amendment, they said, was a provision that would not limit the state Legislature or other public body to adopt or enforce a law providing for payment of higher wages. City attorneys construed this to mean cities could not be prevented from adopting their own minimum wage rules.

The three-judge panel hearing the case on appeal, however, was not swayed.

“Certainly, had the drafters of [the amendment] wanted to restrict the legislature’s ability to prohibit a municipality from adopting its own minimum wage ordinance, they could have employed clear and direct language to achieve that purpose,” Scales wrote. “For whatever reason, the drafters of the provision chose not to incorporate such language in the text of the amendment and we decline [the] city’s invitation to do so by judicial fiat.”

The ruling may spur legal challenges to similar ordinances passed by West Palm Beach and St. Petersburg, and eventually land in the state’s supreme court.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine made the minimum wage one of his signature issues and vowed to take the fight to the Florida Supreme Court. Levine, a Democrat, left office in November so he could run for governor.

Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said the city attorney’s office is reviewing the decision and “will evaluate those legal options that may be available to the City of Miami Beach surrounding this unfavorable decision.”

Meanwhile, the state’s business community feels vindicated.

“This victory today in the district court of appeals is also a victory for businesses,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “This ruling sets a precedent for all municipalities discouraging them from passing local ordinances which are in direct violation of state law while also negatively impacting their local businesses.”

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