Ariz. group sues to let cities set minimum wages

A Flagstaff group is going to court as a first step that could allow all Arizona cities to adopt their own “living wage” laws.

The lawsuit asks a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to void a 2013 law declaring only the state can regulate employee benefits, including compensation. That statute spells out that things such as wages are “not subject to further regulation by a city, town or other political subdivision of this state.”

Attorney Mikkel Jordahl contends the law was enacted illegally.

He points out voters in 2006 approved creation of a state minimum wage. That law, which contains requirements for automatic increases, now requires Arizona employers to pay workers at least $8.05 an hour, compared with the federal minimum of just $7.25.

Jordahl notes that voter-approved law specifically allows counties, cities and towns to set their own minimum wages, as long as they are at least equal to the state requirement.

What makes that important, he said, is a 1998 constitutional amendment known as the Voter Protection Act.

It specifically prohibits lawmakers from altering or repealing anything approved by voters without a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate. And even then, the provision allows alterations only when it’s done to further the original purpose of what voters enacted.

The 2013 law, Jordahl said, meets neither test. So he wants a judge to void the legislative enactment, paving the way for locally enacted minimum wages that are even higher.

Flagstaff could be first in line if the court agrees with Jordahl.

Eva Putzova, who chairs the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition, said the details of the plan are still being worked out.

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